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John Horsburgh (1791-1869)

John Horsburgh was born in Prestonpans, East Lothian, on 16 November 1791. He attended the Trustees' Academy School of Art in Edinburgh, an institution established in 1760 to teach drawing and design for use in manufacture. In 1805, he was apprenticed to Robert Scott, landscape engraver, for whom he continued to work for some time after his indentures expired. Setting up in his own right, he became known as both a portrait and landscape engraver. Amongst his most successful early works (engraved chiefly in line on copper) are contributions to J.M.W. Turner's Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (1826). He was to remain one of Turner's favoured engravers, also contributing to his Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1825-1838). Turner, however, felt that Horsburgh's particular gift lay in rendering buildings and interiors, and such images soon come to predominate over pure landscape in Horsburgh's production. Another early success, and Horsburgh's first professional encounter with Scott's work, was an engraving of Sir William Allan's portrait of Mackay the Actor in a stage adaptation of Rob Roy. Horsburgh's reputation was sufficiently well-established by 1826 that he was elected as a founder member (Associate Engraver) of the Royal Scottish Academy. Feeling unequal to the task, though, he resigned after the first meeting and was never re-elected.

Horsburgh turned to steel engraving in 1829, his first work in the medium being ‘Ponte Sesto, Rome’ after Samuel Prout, for Thomas Roscoe’s Tourist in Switzerland (1830). In the same year he engraved the 1830 portrait of Scott by Sir John Watson Gordon, which was used as the frontispiece for the Magnum Opus edition of St. Ronan's Well (1831). Three other plates by Horsburgh are included in the Magnum Opus: frontispieces to Quentin Durward and The Fair Maid of Perth after Robert Scott Lauder and Thomas Duncan respectively, and a title vignette for Redgauntlet (click on the thumbnail, right).
Engraved title page for Redgauntlet by J. Horsburgh after W. Kidd (Corson Scott Papers/102)

Corson P.2620

Click on the thumbnail to see Horsburgh's engraving of the writer Henry Mackenzie after a portrait by Colvin Smith.


Horsburgh was subsequently employed as an engraver on the Cadell editions of Scott's Poetical Works (1833-34) and Prose Works (1834-36). For the former, he engraved three title vignettes after J.M.W. Turner, portraying Bemerside Tower (vol. V), Ashestiel (vol. VII), and Mayburgh (vol. XI). For the latter, he executed seven further engravings after Turner, depicting Dryden's Monument, Westminster Abbey (vignette, vol. I), Shakespeare's Monument, Stratford Church (vignette, vol. VI), Napoleon's logement, Quai Conti (vignette, vol. IX), Milan Cathedral (frontispiece, vol. XIII), Dunfermline (vignette, vol. XXII), Calais (vignette, vol. XXVII), and Abbeville (vignette, vol. XXVIII). Also for the Prose Works, he engraved frontispiece portraits of Dryden after Kneller (vol. I), Swift after Bindon (vol. II), Smollett (anon.) ( vol. III), and Henry Mackenzie after Colvin Smith (vol. IV). In addition, vols III, IV, and XX also carry title vignettes by Horsburgh after G. F. Sargent, Sir William Allan, and D.O. Hill respectively.
Horsburgh continued to work on Scott-related assignments throughout his working life. He engraved three further portraits of the writer: the Bath Miniature and the 1808 portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn for the 2nd edition of Lockhart's Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (1839), and Sir Thomas Lawrence's 1828 portrait for the Royal Gallery of Art (1854). Nine of the plates in the de luxe Abbotsford Edition of the Waverley Novels (1842-45) were engraved in steel by Horsburgh. Seven are images of buildings: Glasgow Cathedral after Clarkson Stanfield (vol. III), Fast Castle after the Rev. John. Thomson (vol. IV), Scalloway Castle after William Collins (vol.VI), Whitehall after George Haydock Dodgson and Haddon Hall after William Leighton Leitch (both vol. VII), the Convent of St. Saba after David Roberts (vol. IX), and Windsor Castle after Thomas Creswick (vol. X)

Corson P.564

Click on the thumbnail to see Horsburgh's engraving of Fast Castle after the Rev. John Thomson


Corson A.7.a.1842/121
More unusually, however, the other two are landscape engravings, the genre in which Horsburgh was trained but which is sparsely represented in his published work. Vol. I features an engraving of Dirk Hatteraick's Cave on the Coast of Galloway after Clarkson Stanfield to illustrate Guy Mannering (click on thumbnail, left), and vol. IX an image of the Solway Firth, again after Stanfield, in illustration of Redgauntlet

Around 1850, Horsburgh appears to have scaled down his professional activities to concentrate on his (unpaid) work as a pastor in the Scottish Baptist Church. He died on 23 September 1869. The same year saw the publication of a posthumous edition of his pastoral addresses prefaced by a short memoir. For more engravings by Horsburgh, search the Image Database.


  • Guy, John C. Edinburgh Engravers, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, vol. IX (Edinburgh: Old Edinburgh Club, 1916)
  • Hunnisett, Basil. A Dictionary of British Steel Engravers (Leigh-on-Sea: F. Lewis, 1980)
  • Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker (eds). Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler: von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Leipzig: Seemann, 1907-50)

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