Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Watson, Musgrave Lewthwaite
WATSON, MUSGRAVE LEWTHWAITE (1804–1847), sculptor, was born at Hawksdale Hall in the valley of the Caldew, near Carlisle, on 24 Jan. 1804. His father, Thomas Watson, a small native landowner in the same valley, made money in the West Indies, and on his marriage, 6 April 1795, with Mary, daughter of Musgrave Lewthwaite of Carlisle, settled at Hawksdale as a farmer. Musgrave was their second son. He was educated at the school of the neighbouring village of Roughton Head. While at school he carved wood and engraved on metal, making, it is said, his own tools. He developed a keen desire to follow art as a profession. But his parents insisted on articling him in 1821 to Major Mounsey, a solicitor of Carlisle. Fortunately his master, who had the only good collection of pictures in Carlisle, gave him every encouragement to study art. His illustrations to a poem by a local writer, Robert Anderson [q. v.], brought him into notice, and he quickly attained considerable skill as a draughtsman. On the death of his father on 28 Dec. 1823 he adopted the profession of a sculptor, and went to London. There he made the acquaintance of Flaxman, who recommended him to enter the schools of the Royal Academy. He sent in a small model of an Italian shepherdess and was immediately admitted. He was for a short time articled to Robert William Sievier [q. v.], but, on the advice of Flaxman, he went abroad to study in Italy. There he lived among the French and German students in Rome. His versatile talent—he was able to etch, carve, design for cameos, or produce watercolour drawings—easily enabled him to meet his very slight expenses. He afterwards visited Naples and Pompeii, returning to London in 1828. He revisited Carlisle, where he executed a bust of the naturalist John Heysham [q. v.], shown at the Carlisle Exhibition in 1828, and he was also represented there by three sketches in watercolour and oil of scenes from Anderson's ‘Cumberland Ballads,’ a bust of Major Hodgson, and a twelve-inch figure of Clytie in marble, a commission from his friend G. G. Mounsey. He settled down in London, and for a time had a small studio near the British Museum, where he produced some highly poetical works.
About 1833 (Sir) Francis Legatt Chantrey [q. v.] engaged him as a modeller, but quickly parted with him rather than comply with his request for an increase of salary. He afterwards worked for Behnes and Bailey. In 1844 he exhibited at the Royal Academy a small but exceedingly clever bas-relief of ‘Death and Sleep bearing off the Body of Sarpedon,’ which was engraved by Alfred Robert Freebairn by the anaglyptic process. Only a few copies were executed, and those were presented to friends. A copy of this work in plaster was in the International Exhibition of 1862. One of his most charming and poetic works is the bas-relief in marble, ‘Literature,’ exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845; it forms part of the monument to his old friend Allan Cunningham. At length, through the good offices of Allan Cunningham, he obtained the commission from Lord Eldon for a colossal group of the brothers Lord Eldon and Lord Stowell. After much careful study he had completed the models, and was busily engaged on the marble, when fatal illness attacked him, and it was only after his death that it was completed by his assistant and friend, George Nelson. This group is in the library of University College, Oxford. It is a noble monument, and along with his equally successful seated figure of Flaxman, which was begun in 1845 and was also completed by Nelson, received from the commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851 a prize medal. The Flaxman portrait was placed on the staircase leading to the Flaxman gallery of University College, London. In 1847 Watson exhibited for the last time at the Royal Academy. It was a model for a bas-relief 7 ft. 9 in. by 3 ft., a fine design containing eleven figures, and representing Dr. Archibald Cameron tending the wounded on the field of Culloden. This monument was carved in Caen stone, and was erected in the Savoy Chapel; it was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1864. The original cast, however, was sold with Watson's effects and was purchased by Messrs. Nelson of Carlisle.
Watson died at his residence, 13 Upper Gloucester Place, Dorset Square, on 28 Oct. 1847, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. There is a medallion of Watson by George Nelson in the transept of Carlisle Cathedral. He was a man of quiet ways and insignificant appearance, with no friends to push his claims to notice, and when at last his ability, fine taste, and knowledge of work raised him to fame and fortune, the disease which had been aggravated by the many anxieties in his career proved fatal to him.
During his last illness Watson caused those of his models that he considered inferior work to be destroyed. His electrotypes, which were pronounced by his contemporaries to be some of the best work of the time, he bequeathed to his friend Sir Charles Lock Eastlake [q. v.]
The principal works executed by Watson, and not already mentioned, were the bas-relief on Moxhay's hall of commerce, Threadneedle Street, London; the statue of queen Elizabeth in the Royal Exchange; two figures, ‘Hebe’ and ‘Iris,’ for Barry's new gates for the Marquis of Lansdowne's seat at Bowood (the sketches were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1847); full-length colossal statues of Major Aglionby and William, earl of Lonsdale, both in Carlisle; a terra-cotta alto-relievo, ‘Little Children, come unto Me,’ erected over a doorway at Little Holland House; and one of the four bas-reliefs of the Nelson monument, ‘The Battle of St. Vincent.’
After his death a set of fifteen drawings he had executed as illustrations to the poem on ‘Human Life’ by his friend Samuel Rogers [q. v.] was lithographed by William Doeg of Carlisle. One of the cartoons, ‘Philanthropy,’ was engraved on wood by W. J. Linton as an illustration to the ‘Life and Works of Watson’ by Henry Lonsdale (p. 198). He exhibited between 1829 and 1847 nineteen times at the Royal Academy, and twice at the Suffolk Street Gallery.
[Lonsdale's Life of Watson; Art Journal, 1848, p. 27; Royal Academy Cat.; Graves's Dict. of Artists.]