Walter Scott


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Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey's Bust of Sir Walter Scott (1820)

Sir Francis Chantrey's 1820 bust of Sir Walter Scott portrays the author with his head turned slightly to the right and a Lowland plaid arranged round his shoulders. One of the most iconic and frequently reproduced images of Scott, it was acclaimed by his friends and associates as a particularly close likeness. For Scott's son-in-law and biographer John Gibson Lockhart, it was 'that bust which alone preserves for posterity the cast of expression most fondly remembered by all who ever mingled in his domestic circle' (Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., IV, 262). For J. B. S. Morritt, 'Chantrey alone has in his bust attained that [...] most difficult task of portraying the features faithfully, and yet giving the real and transient expression of the countenance when animated' (quoted in Lockhart, II, 183). James Hogg wrote that 'Sir Walter Scott in his study, and in his seat in the Parliament-house, had rather a dull, heavy appearance, but in company his countenance was always lighted up, and Chantrey has given the likeness of him there precisely' (Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott, p. 113).
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Click on the thumbnail for a photolithograph of Chantrey's 1820 bust of Scott

The proposal that Scott sit for a bust came from Chantrey himself. In a letter to Sir Robert Peel (1838), Chantrey explained that it was his 'admiration of Scott, as a poet and a man' which induced him to approach Scott while he was visiting London in spring 1820. It was 'the only time I ever recollect having asked a similar favour from any one' (quoted in Lockhart, VII, 430). Scott was an admirer of Chantrey -- he thought his statues of Robert Blair and Robert Dundas, Lord Melville in Parliament House, Edinburgh, 'as like the original subjects as marble can do to flesh & blood' (to Charles William Henry Scott, 4th Duke of Buccleuch, 14 November 1818, Letters, V, 217) -- and readily agreed. Chantrey stipulated that Scott should take breakfast with him before each sitting and should always bring up to three friends, all good conversationists. The bust required seven settings in March and April 1820 at which Scott was accompanied by, amongst others, John Wilson Croker, Richard Heber, John Fuller, and Lord Lyttelton.

According to a memorandum by the poet Alan Cunningham (who was Chantrey's clerk of works), Chantrey originally intended 'to seize a poetical phasis of Scott's countenance' (quoted in Lockhart, IV, 363). He thus initially modelled Scott looking upwards with a grave and solemn expression. Having seen the writer in animated conversation, however, Chantrey was soon convinced that 'a perfectly serene expression' (IV, 365) would never capture the spirit of the man. After two sittings he renounced his original plan and remodelled the bust in its present pose. Arriving for his third sitting, Scott exclaimed: 'Ay ye're mair like yoursel now! -- Why, Mr. Chantrey, no witch of old ever performed such cantrips with clay as this.' Scott shared his enthusiasm with his wife Charlotte in a letter of 20 March 1820, judging Chantrey's bust 'one of the finest things he ever did' and adding that it was already 'quite the fashion to go to see it' (Letters, VI, 156). Chantrey himself would come to regard the bust as his masterpiece.
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Click on the thumbnail for a photogravure of a profile view of Chantrey's 1820 bust of Scott

The original bust in plaster was completed in 1820. It is now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. According to Chantrey's ledger, five marble replicas were made, the most famous of which is that at Abbotsford. Begun in 1820, the Abbotsford bust was not completed until 1821, when Scott gave Chantrey a number of further sittings in the course of two visits to London. The Abbotsford bust remained in Chantrey's studio from 1821 until 1828, and all the engravings and medallions representing Chantrey's bust would appear to derive from it. Chantrey offered the bust as a gift to Lady Scott while visiting Abbotsford in May 1825. He was a welcome guest. Scott judged him 'a right good John Bull blunt & honest & open without any of the nonsensical affectation so common among artists' (to Jane Jobson Scott, 16 May 1825, Letters, IX, 115) and recorded with amusement how he had 'killd a salmon at which he was almost mad with joy' (to Charles Scott, 13 May 1825, Letters, IX, 113). It was not until June 1828, however, that the bust was dispatched to Scotland. According to Chantrey 'about forty-five casts' of the Abbotsford bust were made for Scott's friends and admirers. In addition, pirate versions were circulated 'to the extent of thousands'.

A second marble replica of the bust (now at Stratford Saye) was ordered by the Duke of Wellington in September 1821. A third marble version was made for Chantrey's own studio in 1828, for which Scott gave further sittings, and which shows minor changes in the configuration of the face. This version was purchased by Sir Robert Peel in 1838 and is now in a private collection. Describing the bust to Peel, Chantrey claimed that 'the expression is more serious than in the two former Busts, and the marks of age more than eight years deeper'. As a result, Lockhart in his survey of portraits of Scott, felt that it possessed 'the character of a second original' (VII, 429). Francis Russell, however, in his Portraits of Sir Walter Scott (1987), is convinced that Chantrey's account exaggerates the differences. He judges the changes to Scott's face 'slight' and argues that the bust differs most significantly from other versions in the set of the plaid. The remaining two replicas were ordered by Archibald M'Lellan in 1836 and Robert Vernon in 1838, and are now in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, respectively.
Corson A.18.4.1.EDI.SCO/1
Click on the thumbnail for a photolithograph of the 1828 version of Chantrey's bust of Scott

In addition to the many casts and copies, Abbotsford bust inspired a significant number of medallions, intaglios, engravings, lithographs, and other derived works. Francis Russell lists medallions by W. Bain (1822-23), William Wyon (1824), A. J. Stothard (1826), Henry Weekes (1838), and E. Halliday (1840). The medallions themselves inspired engravings by J. Bate (after Stothard, n.d.), Edward Lacey (after Stothard, 1832), and Achille Collas (after Weekes, 1838). As for engravings made directly from the Abbotsford bust, Russell records works by James Thomson (1831), William Holl the Younger (1837), and George Baird Shaw (1839). Further derived engravings were published by Charles Picart (1824), J. T. Wedgewood (1827), and Degobert (n.d.). In unpublished research held by Edinburgh University Library's Corson Collection, James C. Corson records further engravings by John Jackson (1832), Charles Burt (1854), and R. Taylor (1871), together with lithographs by J. Granja (1840) and John Ballantyne (n.d.).

Follow the links below for a selection of images from Edinburgh University Library's Corson Collection:

Engravings from the Abbotsford Bust

Engravings from Medallions

So widely recognised is Chantrey's likeness of Scott, that when in 1871 the Royal Mail commissioned Rosalind Dease to design a stamp to mark the bicentenary of the writer's birth, she based her design on the Abbotsford bust.


  • Hogg, James. Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott (Stirling: Mackay, 1909)
  • Lockhart, John Gibson. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., 7 vols (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1837-38)
  • Russell, Francis. Portraits of Sir Walter Scott: A Study of Romantic Portraiture (London: The Author, 1987)
  • Scott, Walter, Sir.The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H.J.C. Grierson (London: Constable, 1932-37)

In addition to the above sources, this page draws on unpublished research by James C. Corson.

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Last updated: 13-Jan-2009
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