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Sir Francis Chantrey [Tate] (1781-1841): Art, Man, and the Earth in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain


Sir Francis Chantrey was widely considered to be Britain’s greatest sculptor at the time of his death in 1841. As a sculptor of portraits and monuments, the reasons for his pre-eminence are often opaque to modern audiences and scholars, for whom the sculptured portrait remains a neglected genre. This module will look to comprehend the reasons for Chantrey’s success by studying the man and his work within the intellectual context of early nineteenth-century Britain. We will look at Chantrey’s sculptural practice and aesthetics within the emerging sculpture market, but especially within the expanding field of scientific enquiry in the period. Chantrey was a significant figure in the worlds of Geology and Zoology, and took an interest in numerous other branches of natural science, industry, and engineering, all of which influenced his work and his reputation.

The course will combine analysis of biographical texts, art historical writings, contemporary scientific writing, and close study of objects. As the scientific aspect of Chantrey’s career has not always been at the forefront of his biography, students will be expected to think creatively about how sculpture relates to natural science at this time, and to gain a deep understanding of the materials of sculpture, and the aesthetics of portraiture. There will be a field trip to view Chantrey’s works around London’s collections and squares.


By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • a detailed knowledge of the career and works of Sir Francis Chantrey
  • an ability to think about Chantrey’s works within the context of early nineteenth-century science, industry, and aesthetics
  • a good knowledge and critical approach to the literature on Chantrey


Preliminary Reading 

  • Holland, J. Memorials of Sir Francis Chantrey (1851)
  • Jones, G. Sir Francis Chantrey R.A., Recollections of His Life, Practice and Opinions (1849)
  • Potts, A. Sir Francis Chantrey, 1781-1841 (1981).
  • Potts, A. ‘Chantrey as the National Sculptor of Early Nineteenth-Century England’, Oxford Art Journal 4 (1987)
  • Sullivan, M.G. ‘A sculptural gift and the history of the Earth: Sir Francis Chantrey, William Buckland, and the geological milieu’ Journal of the History of Collections, Volume 29, Issue 1, March 2017, pp.67-91,
  • Whinney, Margaret. ‘Sir Francis Chantrey’. Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1964), 399-426
  • Yarrington Alison et al, eds., An Edition of the Ledger of Sir Francis Chantrey, R.A. at the Royal Academy, 1809-1841, Walpole Society LVI (1991-92)

Module information

  • Module title
    Sir Frances Chantrey: (1781-1841): Art, Man, and the Earth in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain
  • Module number
  • Convenor
    Greg Sullivan

For postgraduates