The Poet Robert Burns
George A Lawson
(British, 1832 - 1904)
Signed and dated 'Geo A Lawson 1891. No.1', with foundry mark 'J. Moore founder'
Bronze, with rich brown patina
Height including base: 38.6" (98 cm)
Born in Edinburgh in 1832, George Anderson Lawson began his studies under Alexander Ritchie and subsequently under Robert Scott at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1860. He travelled to Rome after completing his studies and joined the admiring, yet critical band of young artists that surrounded the great John Gibson.
Returning to England, Lawson settled in Liverpool, where he garnered local fame for sculpting fantastical figures in terra-cotta. He went on to exhibit multiple pieces at the Royal Academy after his return to London in 1866. His exhibition history at the Royal Academy depicts a lifelong admiration for important literary figures and characters and earned him widespread acclaim.
In 1862, Lawson exhibited the marble statuette, Jeanie Deans, inspired by the iconic character in Sir Walter Scott's novel ‘The Heart of Midlothian’. This was followed, in 1868, by Dominie Sampson, his humorous depiction of the brilliant yet socially inept tutor in Scott’s ‘Guy Mannering’.
In the 1880s, Lawson became more ambitious with his exhibitions at the RA with such works as Cleopatra (1881) and The Danaid (1882) attracting more admirers of his work. In 1884 he was made an Honorary Royal Scottish Academician.
Lawson received numerous commissions for important public monuments. These include his monument to Wellington in Liverpool, completed with his architect brother, Andrew, in 1864, and his monument to Burns in Ayr, erected in 1891.
The Burns Monument in Ayr is considered to be the finest depiction of Scotland’s national poet. This piece is reflective of Lawson’s latter classical style. The poet is sculpted in a poised contrapposto with his arms crossed over his chest. His chiselled face is meditative as he gazes reflectively toward the place of his birth, Alloway, a few miles away. The colossal bronze statue is set on a pedestal of Aberdeen granite and is Lawson’s homage to Burns, immortalising him in the same eternally regal style as other great figures of history.
Cast by the Thames Ditton Foundry of Moore & Co., the statue was unveiled by Sir Archibald Campbell, Lord Blythswood, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, on 8th July 1891. Bronze panels depicting scenes from Burns’ life have since been added to the pedestal.
Lawson’s memorial was admired internationally, and replicas were commissioned and erected in Melbourne on 23rd January 1904, Detroit on 23rd July 1921, Vancouver on 25th August 1928, Montreal on 18th October 1930, and Winnipeg in 1936.
The Robert Burns Memorial in Montreal, Canada
The Robert Burns Memorial in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada
This present version of Robert Burns is a rare metre-high bronze reduction of the famed monument in Ayr. It was cast by Moore & Co., the same foundry that cast the original monument, and is finished with the same expertise and precision as the larger version.
The Thames Ditton Foundry was originally started by Cox & Sons in 1874 and was then taken over by Drew & Co., before becoming Moore & Co. in 1882. James Moore, who, along with Herbert Singer, was the only founder to receive the honour of becoming a member of the Art Workers Guild before 1910, cast many important works. The foundry was taken over by Hollinshead and Burton in 1897, before becoming A. B. Burton in 1902. As such, the present work must have been cast between 1882 and 1897.
A smaller version standing 14 ¾ inches high was cast in an unlimited edition in France by the Susse Freres Foundry. This bronze became a popular acquisition amongst the intellectual society of Scotland as well as visiting learned Americans, to whom Burns was regarded as a prophet. Due to its popularity, this smaller cast is not as rare or coveted as the present metre-high piece, of which there are only four other known casts.
Another example of this metre-high model was exhibited in September 1893 at Belfast’s Free Library and Art Gallery, and later installed in Ayr Old Church. The second was presented to the British Institute at the Sorbonne in 1938. A third cast in silver was acquired in 1940 by the self-styled “independent millionaire” and Glaswegian eccentric, A. E. Pickard, who was a well-known collector. The fourth cast was acquired from Bowman Sculpture in 2007 and is currently in a private European Collection.
Born on 25th January 1759, Robert Burns gained his reputation as the Scottish Bard after producing an extraordinary anthology of poems in 1785. They were borne out of the abject poverty, despair and passion he suffered when the farm on which he lived went to ruin after his father’s death in 1784. He published the famous Kilmarnock edition of his poems in 1786, which brought him great acclaim. However, by 1790, the year he wrote Tam o’ Shanter, the farm he leased near Dumfries began to decline. Six years later he died, aged only thirty-seven.
Ayr, Burns Square – The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1891
Ayr, The Old Church – Robbie Burns, bronze, 1893, 37.5cm
Detroit - The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1921
Melbourne, Princes Bridge, St. Kilda Road - The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1904
Montreal, Dominion Square - The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1930
Vancouver, Stanley Park - The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1928
Winnipeg, Manitoba Legislative Assembly Grounds - The Burns Memorial, bronze, 1936
M H Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today, Cassell, London, 1901. p. 20 (Robbie Burns, illustrated)
Col. Maurice H. Grant, A Dictionary of British Sculptors, Rockliff, London, p. 146
Emmanuel Benezit, Dictionnaire Des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, vol. 6, Grund, Paris, 1976. p. 497
Sr. Sidney Lee, Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, vol. II, Macmillan, 1912. pp. 447-448
Lisa Speranza, The Homewood Cemetery, Arcadia Publishing, 2019. p. 116