Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
Walter Buchan
(1812-78)
After training as a carver under William Mossman I in 1837, he worked closely with the Mossman family of sculptors on many of their commissions for architectural sculpture.

He came to brief prominence with his Trial by Jury frieze on the City and County Buildings, 40-50 Wilson Street (1842-4), which he copied for the interior of the Justiciary Courthouse, Saltmarket (1845, dest. 1910-13); and is believed to have been responsible for the medallion busts of Roman Emperors at the entrance to the former Glasgow Academy, 94 Elmbank Street (1846-7); and the corbel heads and bust of Queen Victoria on the former Wilson & Matheson Warehouse, 42 Glassford Street (c. 1860, attributions: Nisbet).

Another major work by Buchan is the frieze illustrating International Commerce on the former Merchants House, 70-4 Hutcheson Street (1845), which was copied directly from Bertal Thorvalsen's frieze, Triumphal Entry of Alexander into Babylon, in the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Italy (c. 1826), and for which Buchan was paid £56 16s. 4d. on 22 August 1843.

In the 1850s he was employed as a carver on Leeds Town Hall and at the Houses of Parliament, London, and after returning to Glasgow, he became a favourite assistant of John Mossman , with whom he collaborated on the colossal relief s for the Queen's Rooms, 1 La Belle Place (1857-8, now Hindu Mandir).

These depict the rise of civilization and progress, and were mentioned in the press for the quality of their carving and the accuracy of the portraits incorporated into the scheme, including the building's architect, Charles Wilson; its owner, David Bell of Blackhall, his wife depicted as Minerva; and the wealthy art patrons, Stevenson Dalglish and Robert Hutchison, all carved by Buchan from Mossman's models.

He was also responsible for the colossal armorial group at the apex of the building's pediment, which was lost in the early 20th century, and the carver-work on the tenement adjoining the building, 2-5 La Belle Place, which was also designed by Wilson for David Bell, and which features medallion busts and symbols celebrating Bell's name and his interest in Freemasonry (1857).

Buchan eventually moved to London but died there in poverty in April 1878, despite John Mossman 's efforts to assist him.

His posthumous reputation, however, was rescued from obscurity by sculptor Archibald Macfarlane Shannan , when he exhibited plaster copies of the Justiciary Courthouse Trial by Jury frieze at the Corporation Galleries in 1911.

This was after a decision was made to destroy the originals during the building's reconstruction in 1910. Shannan's plaster copies replaced these in the new building soon afterwards.

Sources:

  • Gildard ;
  • GG [Queen's Rooms],23 January, 1858, p. 4;
  • A , [Obit: Buchan], 13 April, 1878;
  • A , [Obit: J. Mossman], 26 September, 1890;
  • Nisbet, in McKenzie (2002) ;
  • McKenzie (1999).
 
Works in our Database:
1: La Belle Place (Kelvingrove),
Former Queen's Rooms, 1 La Belle Place
Narrative Friezes, Portraits, Trophies
and Associated Decorative Carving (1857-8)

Sculptors: J Mossman assisted by W Buchan;
Architect: C Wilson; Builder: W York
2: Wilson Street (Merchant City),
Former City and County Buildings, 40-50 Wilson Street,
70-4 Hutcheson Street, 117 Brunswick Street,
On the stylobate of the Wilson street façade
Trial by Jury (1844)
Sculptor: W Buchan, Architects: Clarke & Bell
3: Wilson Street (Merchant City),
Former City and County Buildings, 40-50 Wilson Street,
70-4 Hutcheson Street, 117 Brunswick Street,
On the entablature of Hutcheson Street façade
International Commerce (1843)
Sculptor: W Buchan; Architects: Clarke & Bell
 
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