Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey

James Watt, 1736-1819. Engineer, inventor of the steam engine (About 1815)

About this artwork

James Watt achieved lasting fame as an engineer and scientist with his improvement of Newcomen's steam engine. After years of experimentation, in 1775 he entered into a partnership with businessman Matthew Boulton to produce the improved engine. Their success led to the opening of a purpose-built steam engine factory in 1796, after which Watt gradually withdrew from active participation. By 1814, when he commissioned his bust from Chantrey, Watt was a national – if reluctant – celebrity. Following its exhibition in 1815 at the Royal Academy, the bust was frequently reproduced in full-scale marble and plaster replicas, miniature copies in ivory for the mass market and commemorative medals, which is why this particular depiction of Watt is so well known.

Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey

Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey

Sir Francis Chantrey was the most outstanding sculptor of his generation. Although his beginnings were humble and his skills mainly self-taught, he had a hugely successful career as a sculptor of portrait busts, statues, public monuments and funerary memorials. His sitters came from a wide spectrum of professions and included writers, artists, scientists and military heroes. His success was the result of an ability to give true character to his sculpture without idealising his subjects too much. His most famous works include several colossal statues of the inventor James Watt, one of which was made for Westminster Abbey, but can now be found in the Portrait Gallery. After his death, Chantrey left a fortune to the Royal Academy for the purchase and promotion of contemporary British art.