A Sculptor for Scotland: the Life and Work of Sir John Robert Steell, RSA (1804-1892)
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Sir John Steell was the most eminent and respected Scottish sculptor of his generation. He set new standards of achievement during his long and prolific career, and consistently worked towards the advancement of Scottish arts. He executed many important public monument projects for Scotland and Great Britain, and sent work to India, New Zealand and the United States. He introduced fine art bronze casting to Scotland, creating the Grove Foundry in Edinburgh in 1849 to cast the Scottish National Monument to the Duke of Wellington. Designated Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty for Scotland by Queen Victoria in 1838, Steell earned a deserved reputation as the finest sculptor in Scotland. Until now, there has never been a comprehensive assessment of Steell’s life and work. The thesis and accompanying catalogue raisonne examine Steell’s career by focussing upon his major monument projects, but also assess his portraiture work and activities within the Scottish Victorian art world. Steell matured as a sculptor within a nation that was maturing aesthetically. Previous generations of Scottish sculptors with talent and ambition were essentially forced by market conditions to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Steell was the first Scottish sculptor to have a major international career while remaining in Edinburgh. Steell’s success was often used as an example that Scottish sculpture had achieved parity with sculptural practice in England and Europe. The thesis examines the conditions that allowed Steell to enjoy such a huge level of success in Edinburgh, and places Steell in context with English and European counterparts. The thesis also assesses the political and social conditions in Edinburgh that allowed Steell to dominate the local market. Also addressed are Steell’s activities within the Royal Scottish Academy, and his relationship with the Board of Manufactures, which provided early patronage and assistance. In terms of patronage, projects, methods, style, genres, display and opportunities, Steell’s career offers an excellent example of the conditions under which Victorian sculpture was created. Steell sculpted the most eminent and famous Britons of hs day, and played an essential role in the commemoration of such individuals as Sir Walter Scott, Wellington, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria for Scotland. The thesis and catalogue comprehensively examine the life and art of the man known for over fifty years as Sculptor for Scotland.