Self-portrait in chalk by Chantrey, c.1802, 18 3/4 in. x 13 7/8 in., given by William Overend, 1882. NPG 654, reproduced here by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

SIR FRANCIS CHANTREY, an eminent English sculptor, was born at Jordanthorpe, in Derbyshire, in 1781. His father, who was a carpenter in poor circumstances, died when Francis was only twelve years of age. Mrs. Chantrey gave her son such advantages of education as her limited means would permit, but these, it seems, were very meagre. In 1797 he was apprenticed to a carver and gilder in Sheffield, where he acquired the rudiments of his future art. He was fond of modelling in clay, and by the help of casts from the faces of his fellow-apprentices and his own, he produced models of considerable excellence. He displayed a taste for painting also, and executed some portraits in miniature. He received some instruction in painting, but sculpture proved to be his true vocation.

Chantrey remained five years with the Sheffield manufacturer, and afterwards went to London and to Dublin, probably in the capacity of a journeyman carver and gilder, but the circumstances of his career at this period are not accurately known. He later became a pupil at the Royal Academy in London, and in 1804 exhibited a portrait in oil. In the following year he exhibited several busts, which gave proof of his ability in sculpture. It is said that Nollekens was one of the first to recognize the merits of Chantrey as a sculptor, and to promote his success. Though laboring in the same department in which he was himself eminent, Nollekens seems to have felt no envy or jealousy, but in an exhibition at the Academy ordered one of his own busts to be removed that one by Chantrey might be put in its place.

Three of Chantrey's works, from left to right: (a) Statue of George IV in Trafalgar Square. (b) Kneeling statue of Bishop Heber in St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata. (c) Sleeping Children, from the tomb monument to the Robinson children in Lichfield Cathedral. [Click on these for larger pictures and more information.]

In the early part of his career as an artist, Chantrey was on one occasion invited to dine with the poet Samuel Rogers. Observing his guest looking intently at the sideboard, the host inquired the reason. "Don't you remember," replied the sculptor, "getting out your prints, and directing those carvings to the man who made that sideboard, and that a boy with him copied the engravings? — that was me, and I carved them."

In 1818 Chantrey became a member of the Royal Academy; the following year he visited Italy, and was elected a member of the Academies of Rome and Florence. After his return to England he continued his labors with success, executing many portrait busts and statues, and some ideal works in sculpture. In 1835 he received the honor of knighthood from William IV.

In ideal sculpture Chantrey does not occupy a high rank, but his portraits are remarkable for truth to nature. He executed a great number of statues and busts of his eminent contemporaries. Among his best works is a colossal statue of James Watt, in St. Paul's Chapel of Westminster Abbey. It is considered a perfect likeness of the great engineer. Other portrait statues by him are to be seen in Westminster Abbey. In St. Paul's Cathedral is a kneeling figure of Bishop Heber by Chantrey. In the State House at Boston is a statue of Washington by him.

Sir Francis died in 1841. He had accumulated a large fortune, which he bequeathed to his wife during her life, and afterwards to the Royal Academy for the encouragement of English art. Lady Chantrey died in 1875, and her husband's fortune passed to the Academy. [253-55].


Shedd, Julia Ann Clark. Famous Sculptors and Sculpture. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1881. Internet Archive. Contributed by Boston Public Library. Web. 21 August 2017.

Created 21 August 2017