Poet, narrator and painter – William Bell Scott was born on September 12, 1811 in Edinburgh. He was brother of the painter and printer David Scott, with whom he attended the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh. During his youth, he worked for his father Robert (1777-1841) – an engraver.
William joined the Pre-Raphaelites movement and the historical-religious subjects of his paintings fully reflect the principles shared by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In 1843, Scott was nominated Master of the Government School of Design of Newcastle-on-Tyne. His mural decorations are well renowned and appreciated – among which we find the one named Iron and Coal in Wallington Hall – depicting an industrial setting.
In 1831, Scott went to London for a few months to study and copy ancient sculptures at the British Museum, for then settling in definitively in 1837.
His first painting entitled The Old English Ballad Singer dates back to 1838: the year when it was exposed at the British Institution. He eventually exposed at the Norfolk Street Gallery in 1840, with his piece: The Jester and continued exposing other works until 1869.
Around 1855 he executed eight large life-size paintings of the history of the Northumberland – commissioned by Sir Walter Treveylan. He completed this decoration in 1863-4 with the addition of 18 oils on canvas destined to the spandrels of the arches of the entrance, and linked to the themes of the ballad of Chevy Chase.
In 1859, Scott began an intimate friendship with miss Boyd of Penkill Castle (Perthshire) which lasted until his death. He painted a series of scenes that illustrated the King’s Quair (the “King’s Book”, a 15th century epic poem attributed to Jack I of Scotland) under her commission, a means to decorate the walls of a circular staircase. He remained in contact for over fifty years with the most influential intellectuals and artists of London – among which: Rossetti, of whom he executed a portrait.
He illustrated the editions of art books on the masters of European art (Albert Dürer: his Life and Works, London, 1869; Gems of French Art, London, 1871; The British School of Sculpture, London, 1872; Murillo and the Spanish School of Painting, London, 1873; The Art of Engraving on Copper and Wood from the Florentine Niello Workers in the Fifteenth Century to that of William Blake, London, 1880) and on English furniture (Antiquarian Gleanings in the North of England, London, 1851; Half-hour Lectures on the History and Practice of the Fine and Ornamental Arts, London, 1861).
In 1875 he published some of his sonnets with illustrations signed also by L. Alma Tadema. Scott also edited the format of important poetic publications of authors such as Keats (1873), Byron (1874), Coleridge (1874), Shelley (1874), and Shakespeare (1875).
In his last years, Scott dedicated himself to his memoires which were edited after his death in two volumes entitled: Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott (1892).
He died in 1890 at the Penkill Castle.