Gourlay   Steell

(Edinburgh, 22 March 1819 - 31 January 1894, Edinburgh)


Animal-painter, son of John Steell, a well-known wood-carver, by his wife, Margaret Gourlay of Dundee was born in Edinburgh. Like his elder brother, Sir John Steell [q. v.], the sculptor, he began his art studies under the guidance of his father, and continued them in the school of the board of manufactures under Sir William Allan [q. v.], and in the studio of Robert Scott Lauder [q. v.] At the early age of thirteen, in 1832, he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy a model of a greyhound, and in 1835, a life-sized study of a bloodhound, and from that time forward works by him were seldom, if ever, absent from the annual exhibitions of that body, of which he was elected an associate in 1846, and an academician in 1859.

In his earlier years he was much employed as a draughtsman on wood for book illustration, and he devoted himself a good deal to modelling, of which he was for some years teacher in the Watt Institute, Adam Square, in succession to his father. He also modelled many groups of horses, dogs, and cattle, which were afterwards cast in silver. In 1857, he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy ‘Llewellyn and Gelert,’ a picture which attracted much attention, as did also, a few years later, a ‘Highland Raid,’ representing the Macgregors defending the cattle which they had raided against an attack of the royal troops. The latter was purchased for their prize distribution by the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, and a replica of the former was painted for the queen, who possesses also ‘The Pass of Leny: Cattle going to Falkirk Tryst.’ In 1865, he exhibited ‘A Cottage Bedside at Osborne,’ the queen reading the Bible to a sick fisherman, which became very popular through the engraving of it by William Henry Simmons [q. v.] ‘A Challenge,’ exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, and also at the Royal Academy in London in 1877, still further increased his reputation. ‘Dandie Dinmont and his Terriers,’ engraved by James Stephenson, was one of many pictures suggested by incidents in the ‘Waverley Novels.’



Steell painted two large hunt pictures: one, in 1863, of the Earl of Wemyss, and another, in 1871, of Colonel Carrick Buchanan of Drumpellier. The latter was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, and both have been engraved. He painted also several equestrian portraits, including those of the Earl of Eglinton and Winton and of Andrew Gillon of Wallhouse, and in 1868, that of the Lord-president Inglis with a shooting party at Glencorse. Many of his later works were large studies of animals executed in oil, tempera, and charcoal, chiefly for the decoration of highland mansions. His last picture, entitled ‘Lochaber no more,’ which he left nearly finished, was rendered doubly pathetic by the artist's death. In 1872, he was appointed animal-painter to the queen for Scotland, and he held a similar office in connection with the Highland and Agricultural Society. He succeeded Sir William Fettes Douglas, P.R.S.A., as curator of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1882.

Steell died at 23 Minto Street, Edinburgh, on 31 January 1894, and was interred in the cemetery at Morningside. He was an admirable draughtsman of horses and dogs, and especially of highland cattle. He was a good shot and a keen angler, and throughout his life was fond of outdoor amusements. One of his sons, David George Steell, A.R.S.A., is a painter of animals and sporting subjects.

[Scotsman, 1 February 1894; Academy, 1894; Art Journal; Annual Report of the Royal Scottish Academy, 1894; Exhibition Catalogues of the Royal Scottish Academy, 1832–1894; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1865-1880.]


View painter's work: Gourlay Steell (1819-1894)