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Art in Scotland
Montague Stanley

Born, January 1809; died, 5th May 1844.

Montague Stanley was a native of Dundee. His father was in the navy, and in the discharge of his duties crossed to New York with his family when the future artist was only fourteen months old. When at the age of three years, his father died, and he was left to the care of his mother, to whom he was always most passionately attached. Natural affection formed one of the most prominent features in his character, and his mind was imbued with the most fervent aspirations and indomitable activity. His mother having married again, removed him to Halifax in Nova Scotia, in his seventh year, where he appears to have contracted his love for the stage, and where also, from associating with the native Indians in the neighbourhood, he acquired great dexterity in shooting with the bow and arrow. Before he had completed his eighth year he performed on the stage, gaining the admiration of many by his ability, as well as his handsome figure and fine countenance. Among those thus attracted to him were the Earl of D— and a Lord R—, who invited him to take a part in some private tlieatrials at Government House, and on the following morning the Countess D— sent her son with a handsome purse filled with gold, which Montague took joyfully to his mother: "Mother, you must give mc the purse, but the gold you may keep,"—adding with an arch smile, "for me, you know." The character which he then acted was that of Ariel in the "Tempest," and he made occasional appearances during the following two years. About this time he adopted the stage as a profession, induced by the death of his stepfather, from yellow fever, at Kingston in Jamaica, where the family had removed to; and in 1819, with his mother and a younger brother and sister, sailed for England, making himself a great favourite on board the ship during a very stormy voyage, from the captain down to an old salt named Jack, who was often at the helm. Badly off for water on account of the protracted voyage, Montague continually denied himself a portion of his own allowance, which was added to by the sailors, in order that his brother and sister might have sufficient.

On arriving in England, Mrs Stanley and her son spent several months with friends in Suffolk, about which time he showed a predilection for art, his juvenile effort consisting in copying a picture from the face of an old Dutch clock. It was resolved, however, that he should follow the profession which in a manner he had already begun, and in 1824 went to York, where he was engaged by a Mr Manby. We next hear of his engagement at the Edinburgh Theatre in 1828, where the chief portion of his life as an actor for the following ten years was passed, and where he was a very popular favourite, taking important parts with some of the leading actors of the time with much success. Shortly after his removal to Edinburgh he began to cultivate his taste for art, the first sketch which he ever made from nature being a drawing of Roslin Castle, to which his brother-in-law had taken him. He had some lessons from Ewbank; and in 1838, while yet in the height of his popularity, and, in the opinion of competent judges, with a brilliant future before him, conscientious religious scruples induded him to retire altogether from the stage. He had successfully performed for a short time at Dublin in 1830; also in London in 1832 and 1833, and in the latter year married into an Edinburgh family of great respectability. After relinquishing the stage, although neither reprobate nor converted sinner—on the contrary, always a man of the purest morality, leading an irreproachable life—he became deeply religious, although never obtrusively so; and if some may condemn him in thus acting from error of judgment, or over-scrupulous conscience, none could ever impugn the perfect sincerity of his motive.

Prior to his retirement from the stage, he had to some extent felt his way by a partial practice of the profession of an artist in Edinburgh, and he now sedulously cultivated the art of landscape and marine painting, his success in which was beyond any reasonable expectation, many of his pictures bringing high prices. He also taught his art in Edinburgh, and when freed from such duties, visited different parts of the country, including some little time spent in Wales in 1842, his letters from which are as full of devout feeling as enthusiasm for art and love for his family. In 1843, feeling his constitution giving way, he resolved to settle in Bute, and merely to reside in Edinburgh during a few months in the year. A short sojourn in Bute so set him up that he resumed his duties in Edinburgh, when he was attacked by a rapid consumption: he returned to Bute, made a last visit to Edinburgh in January 1844, and died at Ascog in the following summer.

Brief as was his artistic career, his reputation being still increasing at the time of his death, he had been for several years an Associate of the Scottish Academy, and was universally esteemed. To the annual exhibitions in Edinburgh he was a regular contributor. He was endowed with great energy of purpose, possessed of much versatility of talent, and to an amiable disposition united high mental activity. His widow was left with seven children. After his death, his sketches and other artistic properties were consigned to an auctioneer in Edinburgh for the purpose of being sold. While in course of conveyance along the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, some sparks from the locomotive set fire to the truck in which they were contained, along with other goods; the rapid motion fanned the flames to such an extent, that before the train could be stopped not a vestige of his property remained, even the truck being almost entirely burned.

He painted much in the manner of MacCulloch, although not so broad and vigorously, and his pictures generally were not of a very large size; many of them have been engraved for book illustrative purposes, for which they were well adapted by their attractive light and shade, and agreeable composition. His life, chiefly in relation to its religious phases, has been written by the Rev. D. T. K. Drummond (1848), illustrated by vignettes engraved from Stanley's sketches, with some of his poetry. He contributed some pieces of verse to a work published by Oliphant of Edinburgh, and also to the 'Christian Treasury.'

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