John Mossman was born in Pimlico in London, on 10 April, 1817, the son of the Scottish sculptor
William Mossman I
, who was working for
Sir Francis Chantrey
at the time. He was the older
brother of the sculptors
William Mossman II
, and the father of a third
, who also became a sculptor.
He was born in the house of Allan Cunningham, author of the Lives and Works of British
Painters, who was a fellow worker with Mossman's father in Chantrey's studio. He studied with
his father and Chantrey, and later with Sir William Allan at the RSA
in Edinburgh, in 1838,
in London, in the early 1840s.
After spending his formative years in Edinburgh, he moved to Glasgow c. 1830, and worked in
his father's firm of monumental masons (known as
J & G Mossman
from 1857). He later made his
name with the monument to the sculptor Peter Lawrence in the Necropolis, for which
he sculpted the first free-standing figure produced in the West of Scotland by a sculptor
rather than by a stonemason (1840).
It was soon after the completion of the Lawrence monument that he came to the attention of
Marochetti, c. 1842, who was so taken by a marble bust he'd seen by Mossman during a visit to
Glasgow that he invited him to complete his training with him in London.
After returning to Scotland, Mossman thereafter dominated the production and teaching of
sculpture in Glasgow for the next 50 years; during which he executed a colossal amount of the
city's architectural sculpture, several of its public monuments, and a prolific output of portrait
busts and commemorative medallions
and funerary monuments for his wealthy patrons. Such was
his contribution to the artistic life, education and appearence of the city,
it is perhaps time to accord him the recognition that he deserves by according him the title:
'The Father of Glasgow Sculpture'.
Mossman’s earliest recorded commission for architectural sculpture was for the statues on
the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street, which included his first portrait statues, the theatre’s owner
John Henry Alexander and the actor David Garrick, as well as allegorical figures
of the muses Thalia and Melpomene (1839, demolished. 1879).
This was followed by a commission to execute allegorical statues for the
Union Bank, 191 Ingram Street (now Corinthian) (1841-2), for which he later
produced figurative groups for its extension in Virginia Place (1854-5) and
its new Ingram Street facade (1876). He also did a significant amount of sculpture
on the City Chambers in George Square, including the Trades of Glagow reliefs on
the exterior, and the Caryatids in the main entrance hall.
Amongst the many other notable buildings he worked on are:
The McLellan Galleries, 254-90 Sauchiehall Street, for which he executed a
colossal bust of Queen Victoria (1855); the Clydesdale Bank, 30 St
Vincent Street, which features allegorical figure groups (1871-74); St Andrew's Halls
(now The Mitchell Theatre), Granville Street, which features perhaps his finest
free-standing architectural groups(1873-7); the Stock Exchange, 159 Buchanan Street,
with its large-scale figurative medallions and statues (1874-7); Kelvinside Academy,
20 Bellshaugh Road, with fine relief work (1878); and the Glasgow Herald Building,
63-9 Buchanan Street, for which he produced statues of Caxton and Gutenberg
As a sculptor of public statues he became the most important in the West of Scotland,
providing Glasgow with its bronze statues of Sir Robert Peel, George Square (1859);
James Lumsden, Catheral Square
(1862); David Livingstone, George Square (1875-9, moved to Cathedral Square, 1959);
Thomas Campbell, George Square (1877); and Rev. Dr. Norman MacLeod, Cathedral
He also provided Paisley with its statues to Patrick Brewster (1863);
Alexander Wilson (1874); and George A Clark (1885). Further afield he produced
the bronze statue of Alexander Bannatyne Stewart for Rothesay on the Isle of Bute (1884),
and the marble statue of Thomas Ormiston for the University of Bombay in India (1888).
His other public monuments include the Hugh MacDonald Memorial Fountain (1860);
the Bailie James Bain Fountain (1873, demolished); and the Sir William Collins
Memorial Fountain (1881), all of which were built on Glasgow Green; and the Stewart Memorial
Fountain, Kelvingrove Park (1872); and the William Miller Cenotaph, Necropolis (1872).
A prolific society portraitist, his many busts include William
Connal (1856), and the Duke of Hamilton (1864).
For Glasgow University he restored the marble Bust of Zachary Boyd by Robert Erskin,
which had stood in a niche on the tower of the Old College buildings from 1658
until it was rescued from their demolition in the 1870s.
A founding member of GSA
and the GIA
, he taught modelling at the school
and served as Visiting Master and on the Committee of Management until 1890,
and trained several sculptors of note as students and as assistants in his
own studio and workshops. These include
J P Macgillivray
D M Ferguson
Also a Freemason, he carved the Sphinxes on the arms of the throne
in St John's Lodge, No. 3, of which many other Glasgow sculptors and architects were
also members, including
and John Baird (No.1)
, the throne's designer,
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson
. Mossman was admitted to the 'sublime degree of Master
Mason' at the lodge in May 1875.
Closely linked with the architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson throughout his career
as a friend and collaborator, Mossman produced a bust of Thomson at the age of thirty (1847),
and commissioned him to design his new studio and workshop at 83 North Frederick Street in
Mossman's new studio stood at the corner of North Frederick Street and Cathedral Street,
and was one of Thomson's first critical successes. It was designed in the 'pure Greek style'
'characteristic of Thomson's genius at its best' (Gildard), and featured friezes of ornament
across its facades carved by Mossman's employees from patterns already familiar to them from
theeir work on Thomson's other buildings.
Mossman lived and worked at 83 North Frederick Street from 1845, together with his father
and brothers, and built and fitted out the new studio and workshop at great expense. He occupied
the new building until 1875, by which time he had moved the workshop to
28 Mason Street (at the east end of the present Cathedral Street) in 1865,
two years after the death of his brother George, and moved his home to 21 Elmbank Crescent,
at Charing Cross. His old premises were to survive him by three years, until they were
demolished in 1893.
A measured drawing of the building's North Frederick Street elevation, by J B Fulton, of 1893,
is in the archives of GSA
, and is reproduced in Gavin Stamp's book Alexander Thomson The
Unknown Genius (1999, p. 176).
Mossman executed sculpture for many of Thomson's buildings and most of his
cemetery monuments, including: the Buck's Head Buildings, 59-61 Argyle Street (1863),
the Wodrow Monument, Eastwood Old Cemetery (c. 1849) and the Isabella McCulloch
Monument in the Necropolis (c. 1867).
He also modelled Thomson's designs for the GIA
Seal (1868) and the Haldane Academy
Medal (1870), and was the natural choice to produce the Alexander Thomson Memorial Bust
). Mossman also contributed £10 to the memorial's subscription
His firm of monumental sculptors, J & G_Mossman, produced an astonishing
number of monuments for cemeteries in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, many of
them incorporating sculpted ornament or portrait reliefs by Mossman in bronze or
Involved in the design and carving of cemetery monuments since he was a boy, he was
influenced in the styling of their figures and form by the work of
in the carving of the Neo-Classical figures on the monument to Highland Mary in Greenock
Cemetery, which he carved from a design by his father (1842); and illustrators such as
J G Legrand, a copy of whose Monuments De La Grece (Paris, 1808), was owned by the Mossmans.
Although he is said to have retired in 1886, he did in fact continue working until his death
in 1890. His final architectural projects were for sculpture on two major buildings by
J J Burnet
the Poseidon Pediment and Putti on the Clyde Navigation Trust Building, 16 Robertson
Street (1882-6), and the Artists and Scholars on the Athenaeum, 8 Nelson Mandela
Mossman died on 22nd September 1890, at Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute,
where he had a holiday home in Lamont Place, Castle Street. He was 73 years of age. His cause of
death was recorded as 'vascular disease of the heart'. He was buried in Glasgow's Sighthill
Cemetery, where his grave is marked by a severely plain, horizontal granite ledger which he
had ordered from his firm's workshop on 28th June 1877, at a cost of £25.1s.1d., after the death
of his sculptor son, William.
Mossman bequethed his firm to his sculptor nephew, William (son of George Mossman),
of Mossman & Wishart, but it was sold a year later to the monumental sculptor, Peter Smith
(1843-1911). Smith had been the manager of Mossman's granite workshop in the 1870s, before he
left to set up his own business as a monumental sculptor. He acquired the business for £2.600,
in 1891. He retained the firm's old name, J & G Mossman, and it continues to trade as such today
under his descendants, the Pollock Smiths.
Portraits of John Mossman appear in several publications, including Norman McBeth's oil
painting of Mossman working at a relief panel, which was published in From Glasgow's Treasure
Chest, by James Cowan (writing as Peter Prowler, c. 1936). The portrait
in the collection of Glasgow's Art Galleries and Museums. Another portrait, by Joseph Henderson,
was exhibited at the first exhibition of the RGIFA
, 1861-2 (present location unknown).
Of all the portraits done during his lifetime, it is the McBeth portrait which best captures
Mossman's physical characteristics as described by his friend Thomas Gildard in his published
reminiscences of his long familiarity with the sculptor and his work.
According to these, there were few grander looking men in Glasgow; his head was the same type
as the writer Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, for whom he was once mistaken, and his figure was 'manly',
his hair rich golden and wavy, and his carriage dignified and easy. His mind was cultivated and
his manner gracious. Although not a society man or coveting social distinction, he preferred the
company of close friends chatting at the fireside.
Gildard's recollections of Mossman were published in the Proceedings of the Philosophical
Society of Glasgow, 1890-92, after he presented them in a paper read to
the society's Architectural Section, on 14 March 1892.
Other portraits include the caricature of Mossman published in The Bailie magazine's
Men You Know series on 21 October, 1874 (Vol. 5, No. 105). This depicted Mossman holding
a chisel and mallet, and standing in front of his statue of Alexander Wilson in Paisley,
which he had recently completed in bronze from a sketch model by his brother, George Mossman.
He last appeared in The Bailie on Wednesday, 1 October 1890, a few days after his
death, when a sketch portrait was done to accompany a poem published
by the magazine to mark his passing:
John Mossman, H.R.S.A. Died 22nd September, 1890
Himself though dead, his works yet speak:
Though life is short, yet art is long,
Not art that's fever'd, cold, or weak,
But art that from its source is strong,
The spirit of the grand old Greek,
Whose godlike statues temples throng -
Such Mossman studied, large and free,
Free, yet by sov'reign law restrained;
The elements so mix' agree
That art is like to nature feign'd,
Motion and breath left out,' yet o'er
The glyptic form th' ideal thrown
As light was ne'er on sea or shore,
The spark divine by which there shone
The statue's soul.
Himself in face
And form a regal presence, where
Were join'd with dignity and grace
And carriage fit such stateliness to bear.
As was his art, so free and large
His heart and hand,; how few that knew
How many needy shared the charge
His bounty made! They were but two,
Himself and them - of humankind,
From men like him we lessons learn
In what of hand and mind is best.
In this I've feebly sought to earn
For humblest stone a place on Mossman's cairn.
More recently, Mossman was included in sculptor Alexander Stoddart's unexecuted design for
a sculpture group that was to be placed at Glasgow Cross, in the 1990s. Mossman had fascinated
Stoddart from his student days at Glasgow School of Art, and was the subject of his
dissertation in 1980: John Mossman, Sculptor: 1817-1890; which was the first survey
and appreciation of Mossman's life and work to appear in modern times.
Despite the colossal contribution that Mossman made to the cultural and architectural
heritage of Glasgow, the city
has made no attempt to recognise this in any meaningful or permanent way; the City of Culture
festival in 1990, and the City of Architecture and Design festival in 1999, being two
important missed opportunities to accord him his rightful status as one of the city's greatest
J & G Mossman Ltd closed its Glasgow office and showroom on 27 May 2011, although the
company continues to trade from its main office at 42-4 Parkhead Road, Alloa, Clackmannanshire.
Their departure from Glasgow, however, is a sad loss to the city, as it brings to an end the
last surviving link the city had with John Mossman and his family and firm.
John Mossman exhibited at the RSA
, 1840-86, the RA
, 1868-79, and was elected HRSA
: (Henderson portrait of Mossman), 26 September 1890, p. 196 (ill.);
: (Cathedral Street studio), 10 July 1854;
: (Obituary), 26 September 1890;
- The Bailie, Men You Know, Vol. 5, No. 105, 21 October 1874 (ill.);
- The Bailie, John Mossman, HRSA, 1 October 1890 (ill.);
- Nisbet, Gary, in
, p. 493 (ills.);;
- Nisbet, Gary, in
; p. 109 (ills.);
- Nisbet, Gary, Gary Nisbet's City Of Sculpture, The Scots Magazine: August 1990 (ills.);
- Nisbet, Gary, John Mossman 1817-1890 A Bicentenary Celebration, The Scottish Genealogist,
June 2017, pp. 39-48 ;
- Stamp (1999)
- Stoddart (ills.);
Williamson et al.
- Information from Caroline Gerard, email to Gary Nisbet, 12 Jauary 2009;
- Death Record (John Mossman): North Bute, 557 23;