Nineteenth century Scottish sculpture
Woodward, Robin Lee
During the early part of the nineteenth century in Scotland local sculpture, perhaps for the first time, came to be regarded as a branch of the arts rather than a mason trade. In those years the two forms of sculpture that were to predominate throughout the century, the portrait bust and the public statue, became prevalent. At first, commissions for such work were offered to English sculptors as none of repute were resident in Scotland. The pattern changed during the late 1820s and 1830s when competent sculptors began to establish practices in Edinburgh. The outstanding personality among these sculptors was John Steell. He introduced large scale marble cutting to Scotland and established the country's first foundry devoted to artistic bronze casting. His example and the patriotic inclination of Edinburgh patrons were major factors in encouraging sculptors to work in Edinburgh. Moreover, artists in other parts of the country suffered from a lack of art academies such as the Trustees School of Design and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and it was only in the second half of the century that Glasgow emerged as a second centre of importance for sculpture. Taste as well as patronage tended to be conservative in the west of Scotland and there the classicizing variant of the portrait bust remained a favourite until the 1890s. In Edinburgh the popularity of such work had begun to wane at least fifteen years earlier. Developments in taste were first reflected in private rather than public commissions and it was through private clients that the more significant trends of late nineteenth century sculpture became evident when artists sought to emphasize the personal nature of their expression; the development was accelerated by the breakdown of the apprentice tradition and the more extensive influence of art schools. Of particular importance was the Edinburgh College of Art, established on principles suggested by Pittendrigh MacGillivray who, like John Steell, was an outstanding personality in Scottish sculpture and whose work bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.