Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chantrey, Francis Legatt
CHANTREY, Sir FRANCIS LEGATT (1781–1842), sculptor, was born near Norton, Derbyshire, on 7 April 1781. His father, who died in 1793, was a carpenter and small farmer residing at Jordanthorpe, near Sheffield. Chantrey was educated at the village school, and first employed by a grocer in Sheffield. In 1797 he was attracted by the shop-window of a carver named Ramsay in Sheffield, and was apprenticed to him for seven years. Ramsay was also a dealer in prints and plaster models, and Chantrey soon showed artistic tastes, which were encouraged by J. Raphael Smith, the mezzotint engraver, whom he met at Ramsay's. He began by drawing portraits and landscapes in pencil, and was taught carving in stone by a statuary. It is said that Ramsay discouraged for selfish reasons Chantrey's efforts, but Chantrey persevered, and hired a room near Ramsay's for a few pence a week, where he spent his leisure in studying alone. In oil-painting he received his first instruction from Samuel James [q. v.], son of Samuel Arnold, the musician [q. v.] Among his earliest patrons at Sheffield were Messrs. Rhodes, Brammall, and Jackson, filemakers, and his talent seems to have soon attracted a good deal of local attention, for in 1802 he was able to make a composition with Ramsay for the remaining period of his articles, and to set up as a portrait painter. He resided then at 24 Paradise Square, as appears from an advertisement in the Sheffield ‘Iris’ of 22 April 1802, in which he offered to execute ‘portraits in crayons and miniatures’ at from two to three guineas each. From a letter written in 1807 it is clear that he obtained five guineas for portraits before he left Sheffield. Of the Sheffield portraits seventy-two have been catalogued, and among his sitters were Thomas Fox, the village schoolmaster of Norton, and his son (in crayons), Ebenezer Rhodes, Miss Brammall, and her sister Mrs. Hall (in oils). He is said to have tried his fortune in Dublin and Edinburgh before he came to London, but these experiments must have been short if, as reported, he commenced studying at the Royal Academy in 1802. He was not admitted as a student, but was allowed to study for a limited time. It has been asserted that after he came to London he did not make 5l. for eight years; but this is scarcely accurate, as he writes to his friend Ward in 1807 of eight portraits in his room nearly finished at twenty guineas each, and he did not leave off his professional visits to Sheffield till 1808. He also appears in 1803 to have been employed in carving in wood at five shillings a day for Bogaart, a German carver. Samuel Rogers, the banker and poet, had a table which Chantrey in after years, when dining with him, recognised as his work, and other early woodcarvings of his are on record. According to one of his biographers (Holland), he lived when in London in Curzon Street, Mayfair, at the house of a Mr. D'Oyley, in whose service were his uncle and aunt Wale, but the address 24 Curzon Street, Mayfair, does not occur in the Royal Academy catalogues till 1809. Before this it is (in 1804) 7 Chapel Street West, Mayfair, (in 1805) 78 Strand, and (in 1806) 12 Charles Street, St. James's Square. In 1804 the painter of the picture numbered 837 is called T. Chantrey, but this is probably a misprint, as there can be little doubt that the ‘Portrait of D. Wale, Esq.,’ was the portrait of Chantrey's uncle, and was painted by the subject of this article—his first work exhibited at the Royal Academy. Although in 1807 he writes of two pictures ‘from the 3rd and 4th chapters of St. Luke, he advertised in 1804 to take models from the life, and after this seems to have devoted himself almost exclusively to sculpture, his first commissions for busts coming from his Sheffield friends. That of the Rev. J. Wilkinson (1805–6), for the parish church at Sheffield, was the first he chiselled in marble. But he soon got commissions (at 10l. apiece) for colossal busts of admirals for Greenwich Hospital, and three of these, Howe, Duncan, and St. Vincent, were exhibited in 1809. In 1807 he wrote ‘orders increase and marble costs money,’ but now his struggles, however severe they may have been, were over, for in this year he married his cousin Miss Wale, who brought him property which has been valued at 10,000l. He then moved to a house of his own in Eccleston Street (No. 13), Pimlico, built two more houses, and a studio, and laid in a stock of marble. Next year he received one hundred guineas for a bust of Dr. John Brown, and competed successfully for the statue of George III for Guildhall. The year after he had six busts in the Royal Academy. He was then an ardent politician, and among these busts were those of Horne Tooke and Sir Francis Burdett, for both of whom he had a great admiration. Another was of his old helper, J. Raphael Smith, which was perhaps that in which he is said to have rendered the listening expression of the deaf artist. Another was of Benjamin West, the president of the Royal Academy. Nollekens placed the bust of Horne Tooke between two of his own, and the prominence thus given to it is said to have had a marked influence on Chantrey's career. He received commissions at once amounting to 12,000l., and began to rise steadily to the head of his profession. About this time Allan Cunningham entered his employment as a hewer of statuary. In 1813 he raised his price for a bust to a hundred and fifty guineas, and in 1822 to two hundred. This sum was exceeded by George IV, who in this year (1822) insisted on paying Chantrey three hundred guineas for his bust.
It was to portrait sculpture that he owed his fortune and his fame, but the latter was augmented greatly by the grace and tender sentiment which he showed in his treatment of children. The most celebrated of all his works is probably the group of sleeping children in Lichfield Cathedral, the daughters of Mrs. Robinson, whose reminiscences of them as they lay in bed locked in one another's arms suggested to Chantrey the idea of the monument. The actual design has been attributed erroneously to Stothard. To this artist have also been ascribed the designs for Chantrey's monument to Miss Johnes of Hafod (1812), and for the small statue of young Lady Louisa Russell (on tiptoe and caressing a dove) at Wobum (1818), but the indebtedness of Chantrey to Stothard probably did not exceed that which must always happen when two such good artists are such good friends. Another very beautiful work is 'Lady Frederica Stanhope with her infant child in Chevening Church' (1824).
To give a list of Chantrey's busts would be to catalogue the names of most of the distinguished men of his time, but among the most celebrated were those of Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, James Watt, and Porson. Of Scott he executed two, one in 1820, and the other in 1828. The former was moulded and pirated, thousands being dispersed at home and abroad. A copy of it is in the National Gallery. He made a present of the original to Scott ; and the words of Lockhart with regard to it probably contain much of the secret of Chantrey's success in his art. He calls it 'that bust which alone preserves for posterity the cast of expression most fondly remembered by all who ever mingled in his domestic circle.' The bust of 1828 was bought by Sir Robert Peel. He also executed many important statues. Among these were three which were equestrian — Sir Thomas Munro (at Madras), Wellington (Royal Exchange), George IV (Trafalgar Square). These are characteristic of an artist who, though the friend of Canova, preferred the art of Thorwaldsen. They are all graceful and unaffected, not without dignity, but a little tame. Of his other statues, that of William Pitt was thrice repeated in bronze ; one of the copies is in Hanover Square. At the British Museum is Sir Joseph Banks ; at Liverpool Town Hall, Roscoe and Cunning ; in Westminster Abbey, Sir John Malcolm and Francis Horner; at Glasgow, James Watt ; at Manchester, John Dalton ; in Christ Church, Oxford, Dean Cyril Jackson ; in the Old Parliament House, Edinburgh, Viscount Melville ; in Northampton Church, Spencer Perceval ; and at Windsor, George IV .
Among his rare works of an ideal kind were a head of Satan, a stone mezzo-relievo of Plenty, executed about 1816 for the entrance of Sheaf House (Mr. Daniel Brammall's), Sheffield, and afterwards removed to the library of Mr. F. Young of Eardcliffe, and 'Penelope looking for the bow of Ulysses,' at Woburn.
In 1806 Chantrey made a tour through Yorkshire with somefriends, making sketches by the way of landscape and comic incident. In 1814 with Mr. Dennis, and in the following year with his wife and Stothard, he went to Paris and saw the great collection in the Louvre before its dispersion. Here he met Canova, and made an acquaintance which was afterwards renewed in London. On this occasion he procured good casts of the Laocoon, the Antinous, and other celebrated pieces of sculpture, which he afterwards allowed young artists to study at his house. He also went to Holland, it was his habit to preserve graphic records of his journey in his sketch-books, and it was probably the slight contents of one of these books which furnished the contributions by Chantrey to Rhodes's 'Peak Scenery,' published in 1818, with engravings by W. B. and G. Cook, and lately (1885) republished by Murray of Derby. The drawings were in pencil and not of sufficient importance to make it necessary to enter here into the question how much artistic merit was added to them by the engravers or others.
In 1819 he went to Italy and devoted his time to study in the galleries. Here he met Thomas Moore and visited with him Canova's gallery. He also purchased marble at Carrara.
In 1815 Chantrey was elected an associate and in 1818 a full member of the Royal Academy, to whose interests he was always devoted. He was knighted by William IV in 1835, and was honorary D.U.L. of Oxford and an honorary M.A. of Cambridge, F.R.S. and F.S.A. His fame and popularity were uninterrupted when he died suddenly of spasm of the heart on 25 Nov. 1842. He was buried in his native village in a tomb previously prepared by himself. At his death he was worth 150,000l.
He was childless and left the reversionary interest of the bulk of his property, after the death of his widow, to the Royal Academy, to make some provision for the president and to found the iiind known as the Chantrey bequest, with the view of establishing a national collection by the purchase of the most valuable works in sculpture and painting by artists of any nation residing in Great Britain at the time of execution. Although only a few years have elapsed since the first purchases were made by the Royal Academy out of the Chantrey fund, the collection already contains some fine works. It is at present housed at the South Kensington Muaeuin. The National Portrait Gallery contains busts of Benjamin West and George Canning, and a medallion of Kirke White, by Chantrey, and a portrait of the sculptor by Thomas Phillips, R.A.
In face Chantrey resembled Shakespeare and had a beautiful mouth. In early life he lost his hair through a fever in Ireland and never recovered it. He possessed great natural intelligence and sagacity. Though not well educated, he had a large store of accurate information, and took great interest in geology and other sciences. He built a foundry to cast his own works in bronze. His manners were somewhat rough and his language strong, but his notions with respect to character and conduct were refined, and he was considerate for the feelings of others. An excellent mimic, of a cordial merry humour, he was a capital companion and host. He gave good dinners, and was devoted to fishing and shooting. A brace of woodcocks which he killed at Holkham with one shot have become historical. He carved them beautifully (1834) and presented the work to Mr. T. W. Coke, afterwards Lord Leicester, of Holkham. The epigrams made on the occasion by Lord Jeffrey, Dean Milman, Marquis Wellesley, and others, have been collected and published in a volume called 'Winged Words on Chantrey's Woodcocks ' (1857). This is Lord Jeffrey's:
Their good and ill from the same source they drew
Here shrined in marble by the hand that slew.
At Lord Egremont's, at Petworth, he was a favoured guest. Here he used to meet Turner, the landscape painter, with whom he was always on pleasant terms. With artists generally he was popular, and was generous and liberal to the younger members of the profession. He was not ashamed of his humble origin, and preserved to the last an affection for Sheffield. He rebuilt the cottage of his mother (who had married again shortly after his father's death), and presented to the Cutlers' Hall casts of his busts of West, Scott, Canning, and Playfair. When his old friend Rhodes fell into distress, he sent him regularly the interest of 1,000l.
[Holland's Memorials of Sir Francis Chantrey; Jones's Recollections of Life, &c., of Sir F. Chantrey; Rhodes's Peak Scenery; Muirhead's Winged Words on Chantrey's Woodcocks; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Thornbury's Life of Turner; Nollekens and his Times; Mrs. Bray's Life of Stothard; Encyclopædia Britannica (1876); Lockhart's Life of Scott; Catalogues of the Royal Academy, National Gallery, and National Portrait Gallery.]