Walter Scott


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Thomas Phillips's Portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1815?)

The dating of the half-length portrait of Scott made by Thomas Phillips for the publisher John Murray remains uncertain. The portrait is mentioned only once in Scott's correspondence in a letter of October 1822 to William Stewart Rose which reveals that it was painted in London but provides no further details of the sitting. In his biography of Scott, J.G. Lockhart dates it to 1818, relying on information provided by Phillips himself. In his Portraits of Sir Walter Scott, however, Francis Russell argues that 1815 is more probable. Scott did not, in fact, visit London in 1818 but spent ten weeks there in 1815, spending a good deal of time at John Murray's where he met Byron. The portrait depicts Scott turned towards the right with a plaid of Stuart tartan over his shoulders. His collar is open and he is holding a cap in his right hand. Click on the thumbnail, right, to see a full-size engraving of the portrait by W.T. Fry.
Corson P.2010
The portrait of Scott is one of a series of portraits that Murray commissioned Phillips to paint of the poets that he published, including Byron, Southey, and Crabbe. Russell argues that the Scott portrait was designed as a companion piece to that of Byron. The attitude of Scott and the open collar appear to be inspired by the portrait of Byron (see, right, for an uncredited engraving). Lockhart judged the costume 'unfortunately selected', giving 'a theatrical air to what would otherwise have been a very graceful representation of Scott in the 47th year of his age'. For Lockhart, Phillips had 'caught a true expression not hit upon by any of his brethren---a smile of gentle enthusiasm' (X, 260-61). Scott does not appear to have recorded his opinion of the painting but is known to have disliked portraits which aimed for an inspired or poetical effect.

The picture remained in the Murray family until 1929; current ownership is unknown. Francis Russell lists eight engravings made after the portrait, copies of two of which are held in the Corson Collection. Besides the engraving by W.T. Fry (see thumbnail at head of page), Corson also owned an engraving by J.R. West (click here to see a full-size image).


  • Lockhart, John Gibson. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., 2nd edn (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1839)
  • Russell, Francis. Portraits of Sir Walter Scott: A Study of Romantic Portraiture (London: The Author, 1987)

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Last updated: 19-Apr-2005
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