John Zephaniah Bell

(1794 - 28 January 1883)

John Zephaniah Bell was born at Dundee in 1794; his father was a tanner. He studied at Edinburgh University, and also under private tuition. Although he had chosen Law as his profession, it soon became evident that his talents lay mainly in the direction of Art. He therefore came to London, bringing with him letters of introduction to Sir David Wilkie and others, and entered the Schools of the Royal Academy, where he studied under Mr. Shee, the future President. He next visited Paris and worked in the atelier of the Baron de Gros. in that city. Bell found a generous patron in the Earl of Airlie, who commissioned him to decorate the dining room in Cortachy Castle with incidents from the lives of his ancestors.

In 1825, he went to Rome, and after working there for fifteen months returned to Scotland, where, in 1831, he married Miss Jane G. Hay Campbell, an Argyllshire lady.

In 1833, Bell went to Lisbon to paint a full length portrait of the Queen Maria for the Town Hall of Oporto.

On the pressing recommendation of Sir D. Wilkie, in 1837, he undertook the direction of the School of Design in Manchester, an office which he held for five years. He then returned to London and chiefly occupied himself in producing designs on a large scale for the decoration of public buildings. Among these were 'the cartoons he executed for the Great Competition in Westminster Hall -- for one of which he received a prize of 250l.

He died at his residence in South Kensington in the 89th year of his age.


Scottish artist born in Dundee, where his father William Bell was a tanner, businessman and banker; James Stanislaus Bell was his brother. He studied at Edinburgh University, and then went to London, where he was a pupil of Martin Archer Shee.

Bell studied under Antoine-Jean Gros in Paris, and was in Rome for over a year from 1825. He was portrait painter to Maria II of Portugal, and assistant to David Wilkie. He married Jane Graham Hay Campbell in 1831.

Bell became head of the Manchester School of Design when it was set up in 1838. He resigned in 1843, and was succeeded by George Wallis.

In Paris, Bell met David Ogilvy, 9th Earl of Airlie, who became a patron and had him decorate Cortachy Castle. He showed paintings at the Royal Academy and Royal Manchester Institution in the period 1824 to 1865. Frescoes in the Muirhouse mansion in Edinburgh impressed Wilkie. Bell won a prize in the Westminster Hall fresco competition of 1842.

Bell was a Sandemanian and painted a portrait of Michael Faraday, of the same church. The attribution to Bell of John Gubbins Newton and His Sister, Mary Newton has been withdrawn.


Born in Dundee, Bell studied in London, Paris and Rome, where he developed an interest in Italian Fresco painting. In 1833, Bell painted ceiling frescos in the Edinburgh mansion Muirhouse, one of which survives. These impressed Sir David Wilkie, who described Bell as the 'reviver of Fresco painting in Scotland.' Bell taught briefly in Manchester and settled in London, while continuing to travel.


Scottish domestic and historical painter. Studied with Archer-Shee, and Gros in Paris. Worked in Edinburgh, Rome, Lisbon, Oporto, and Manchester. Won a prize in the competitions for the Westminster Hall decorations.

Exhibited 28 picitures at Royal Academy, 11 at B.I. (British Institution 1806-67, Rival to Royal Academy), 15 at S.S. (Suffolk Street, Royal Society of British Artists) and 19 at various exhibitions 1824-1865. Subjects: 'Cartoon for ceiling at Muir House', 'Richard II. Giving the Charter to the Goldsmiths' Company', 'Circassians Reconnoitring Polition'.

Cardinal Bourchier urging the Widow of Edward IV. to let her Son out of Sanctuary.
In the centre of the picture, the youthful Prince, clad in black, clings to the Queen, who is also draped in deep mourning and surrounded by her attendants. Towards the right of the foreground the Cardinal, whose back is turned to the spectator, but whose face is seen in profile, raises his hands with an appealing gesture. Near him stand other ecclesiastics and a page or acolyte. On the right, through the open door of the convent hall, are seen the halberds of a troop of soldiers on guard. On ithe left is a servant cording a trunk. On canvas, 4 ft. 4 in. h. by 5 ft. w. Presented by the painter's widow in 1893.



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