Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Francis Legatt Chantrey

Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey (April 7, 1782 - November 25, 1841), English sculptor, was born at Norton near Sheffield, where his father, a carpenter, cultivated a small farm.

His father died when he was eight years of age; and his mother having married again, his profession was left to be chosen by his friends. In his sixteenth year he was on the point of being apprenticed to a grocer in Sheffield, when, having seen some wood-carving in a shop-window, he requested to be made a carver instead, and was accordingly placed with a Mr Ramsey, woodcarver in Sheffield. In this situation he became acquainted with Raphael Smith, a distinguished draftsman in crayon, who gave him lessons in painting; and Chantrey, eager to commence his course as an artist, procured the cancelling of his indentures, and went to try his fortune in Dublin and Edinburgh, and finally (1802) in London.

Here he first obtained employment as an assistant wood-carver, but at the same time devoted himself to portrait-painting, bust-sculpture, and modelling in clay. He exhibited pictures at the Academy for some years from 1804, but from 1807 onwards devoted himself mainly to sculpture. The sculptor Nollekens showed particular zeal in recognizing his merits. In 1807 he married his cousin, Miss Wale, who had some property of her own. His first imaginative work in sculpture was the model of the head of Satan, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1808. He afterwards executed for Greenwich hospital four colossal busts of the admirals Duncan, Howe, Vincent and Nelson; and so rapidly did his reputation spread that the next bust which he executed, that of Horne Tooke, procured him commissions to the extent of £2,000.

From this period he was almost uninterruptedly engaged in professional labour. In 1819 he visited Italy, and became acquainted with the most distinguished sculptors of Florence and Rome. He was chosen an associate (1815) and afterwards a member (1818) of the Royal Academy, received the degree of M.A. from Cambridge, and that of D.C.L. from Oxford, and in 1835 was knighted. He died after an illness of only two hours' duration, having for some years suffered from disease of the heart, and was buried in a tomb constructed by himself in the church of his native village.

The works of Chantrey are extremely numerous. The principal are the statues of Washington in the State-house at Boston, U.S.A; of George III in the Guildhall, London; of George IV at Brighton; of Pitt in Hanover Square, London; of James Watt in Westminster Abbey and in Glasgow; of Roscoe and Canning in Liverpool; of Dalton in Manchester; of Lord President Blair and Lord Melville in Edinburgh, etc. Of his equestrian statues the most famous are those of Sir Thomas Munro in Calcutta, and the Duke of Wellington in front of the London Exchange.

But the finest of Chantrey's works are his busts, and his delineations of children. The figures of two children asleep in each other's arms, which form a monumental design in Lichfield cathedral, have always been lauded for beauty, simplicity and grace. So is also the statue of the girlish Lady Louisa Russell, represented as standing on tiptoe and fondling a dove in her bosom. Both these works appear, in design, to have owed something to Stothard; for Chantrey knew his own scantiness of ideal invention or composition, and on system sought aid from others for such attempts. In busts, his leading excellence is facility--a ready unconstrained air of life, a prompt vivacity of ordinary expression. Allan Cunningham and Weekes were his chief assistants, and were indeed the active executants of many works that pass under Chantrey's name. Chantrey was a man of warm and genial temperament, and is said to have borne a noticeable though commonplace resemblance to the usual portraits of Shakespeare.

Chantrey Bequest

By the will dated December 31 1840, Chantrey (who had no children) left his whole residuary personal estate after the decease or on the second marriage of his widow (less certain specified annuities and bequests) in trust for the president and trustees of the Royal Academy (or in the event of the dissolution of the Royal Academy, to such society as might take its place), the income to be devoted to the encouragement of British fine art in painting and sculpture only, by "the purchase of works of fine art of the highest merit ... that can be obtained." The funds might be allowed to accumulate for not more than five years; works by British or foreign artists, dead or living, might be acquired, so long as such works were entirely executed within the shores of Great Britain, the artists having been in residence there during such execution and completion. The prices to be paid were to be "liberal," and no sympathy for an artist or his family was to influence the selection. or the purchase of works, which were to be acquired solely on the ground of intrinsic merit. No commission or orders might be given: the works must be finished before purchase. Conditions were made as to the exhibition of the works, in the confident expectation that as the intention of the testator was to form and establish a “ public collection of British Fine Art in Painting and Sculpture,” the government or the country would provide a suitable gallery for their display; and an annual sum of £300 and £50 was to be paid to the president of the Royal Academy and the secretary respectively, for the discharge of their duties in carrying out the provisions of the will.

Lady Chantrey died in 1875, and two years later the fund became available for the purchase of paintings and sculptures. The capital sum available amounted to £105,000 in 3% Consols, which (since reduced to 21/2%) produces an available annual income varying from £2500 to £2100. Galleries in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington were at first adopted as the depository of the works acquired, until in 1898 the Royal Academy arranged with the treasury, on behalf of the government, for the transference of the collection to the National Gallery of British Art, which had been erected by Sir Henry Tate at Millbank. It was agreed that the "Tate Gallery" should be its future home, and that” no power of selection or elimination is claimed on behalf of the trustees and director of the National Gallery” (Treasury Letter, 18054-98, December 7 1898) in respect of the pictures and sculptures which were then to be handed over and which should, from time to time, be sent to augment the collection. Inasmuch as it was felt that the provision that all works must be complete to be eligible for purchase militated against the most advantageous disposition of the fund in respect of sculpture, in the case of wax models or plaster casts before being converted into marble or bronze, it was sought in the action of Sir F Leighton v. Hughes (tried by Mr Justice North, judgment May 7, 1888, and in the court of appeal, before the master of the rolls, Lord Justice Cotton, and Lord Justice Fry, judgment June 4, 1889--the master of the rolls dissenting) to allow of sculptors being commissioned to complete in bronze or marble a work executed in wax or plaster, such completion being more or less a mechanical process. The attempt, however, was abortive.

A growing discontent with the interpretation put by the Royal Academy upon the terms of the will as shown in the works acquired began to find expression more than usually forcible and lively in the press during the year 1903, and a debate raised in the House of Lords by the earl of Lytton led to the appointment of a select committee of the House of Lords, which sat from June to August 1904. The committee consisted of the earls of Carlisle, Lytton, and Crewe, and Lords Windsor, Ribblesdale, Newton, and Killanin, and the witnesses represented the Royal Academy and representative art institutions and art critics. The report (ordered to be printed on August 8, 1904) made certain recommendations with a view to the prevention of certain former errors of administration held to have been. sustained, but dismissed other charges against the Academy. In reply thereto a memorandum was issued by the Royal Academy (February 1905, ordered to be printed on August 7 1905--Paper 166) disagreeing with certain recommendations, but allowing others, either intact or in a modified form.

Up to 1905 inclusive 203 works had been bought--all except two from living painters--at a cost of nearly £68,000. Of these, 175 were in oil-colours, 12 in water-colours, and 16 sculptures (10 in bronze and 6 marble).

See The Administration of the Chantrey Bequest, by DS MacColl (London, 1904), a highly controversial publication by the leading assailant of the Royal Academy; Chantrey and His Bequest, by Arthur Fish, a complete illustrated record of the purchases, etc. (London, 1904); The Royal Academy, its Uses and Abuses, by HJ Laidlay (London, 1898), controversial; Report from the Select Cornmittee of the House of Lords on the Chantrey Trust; together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence and Appendix (Wyman & Sons, 1904), and Index (separate publication, 1904).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.