The Twickenham Museum
People : Artists and Painters

Sir Francis Chantrey
One of the greatest English Sculptors

Sir Francis Chantrey

A remarkable career

Francis Legatt Chantrey was born at Norton, near Sheffield, the son of a tenant farmer turned carpenter. His father died when he was 12 and he went to work with a grocer, later taking up an apprenticeship with a wood carver and gilder in Sheffield.

Buying himself out of his indenture with the help of friends, he took up portrait painting in that city, moving down to London via Dublin and Edinburgh in 1802. Here he took up sculpture, establishing a reputation with his bust of Horne Tooke which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811. Chantrey was elected RA in 1818 and was knighted in 1835. When he died he left his estate to his wife for her life and then in trust (the Chantrey Bequest) to the President and Trustees of the Royal Academy.

Chantrey ranks with Flaxman as one of the greatest English sculptors. Possessing great natural talent, his career was a remarkable achievement. He was knighted by William IV, refusing a baronetcy.

Twickenham connections

On 23 November 1809 Chantrey married his cousin, Mary Ann Wale at St Mary's Church, Twickenham. His connection with Twickenham was accidental, although he maintained it for a number of years.

From about 1802 he lodged in London with his uncle and aunt, a Mr and Mrs Wale. They were apparently in the service of Mrs Sarah D'Oyley at her house in Curzon Street. She was a grand daughter of Sir Hans Sloane and had taken a fancy to Chantrey, probably supporting the progress of his career. She spent time in Twickenham where she owned the Copt Hall estate just north of Heath Lane. Sarah's husband, Christopher had bought Copt Hall in 1793 from Admiral William Martin. He had died in 1795 and she inherited the house, remaining there for 30 years. It seems likely that Chantrey did enough of his courting at Copt Hall to warrant getting married in the place. According to Cobbett, Mrs D'Oyley's butler had shown Chantrey kindness so that he continued to visit Twickenham for the rest of his life, to dine with Bowyer and to go on the river with him.

Christopher D'Oyley is buried at St Mary's Church, Walton on Thames. His memorial, on the south side of the chancel also records the death of Sarah. The D'Oyley family came from Walton, Thomas Doyly was the incumbent from 1798-1815 and there is a large table tomb on the north side of the church, the grave of Lt General Francis Doyly, Colonel of the 67th Regiment of Foot.

Artistic legacy

Chantrey died suddenly in 1841 and was taken up to his birthplace, Norton, to be buried. The sculptor N N Bernard said that when Chantrey died, "Lady Chantrey came into the studio with a hammer and knocked off the noses of many completed busts, so that they might not be too common." Presumably these were plaster casts of the original clay, from which the final marble images had been carved.

Also waiting in the studio was his statue of Dorothea Jordan, commissioned posthumously in 1831 by William IV. Although, eventually, this found its home in Buckingham Palace the plaster cast ended up in the basement of the Ashmolean Museum. Here, with others, it was smashed up during World War II to make space for an air raid shelter. The head was cut off and preserved.

Further reading:

Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851, Abbey Library, 1953
Anthony Beckles Willson, Copt Hall, Twickenham, 1998, unpublished research note
Alex Potts, Sir Francis Chantrey 1741-1841, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1981
Margaret Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, The Pelican History of Art, 1988
Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, Viking, 1994
R S Cobbett, Memorials of Twickenham, 1872
Dictionary of National Biography

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