Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
William Mossman I
(1793-1851)
An architectural and monumental sculptor, he was the father of John Mossman , William Mossman II and George Mossman , and grandfather of William Mossman III . Initially working as a marble cutter in Glasgow from 1816, his business traded as 'William Mossman' until 1854, when his firm was renamed J G & W Mossman, and then J & G Mossman , in 1857, by his sons.

A descendant of James Mossman (1530-73), Goldsmith to Mary, Queen of Scots, he was born in West Linton, a Peebleshire village known as a centre for masons and sculptors, on 18th August, 1793, one of at least eleven children born to school master John Mossman (d. 1808) and Jean Forrest. He trained as a carver in London and worked for Sir Francis Chantrey , before moving to Edinburgh in 1823, where he set up as a marble cutter at 3 Moray Street, Leith Walk.

A year later, he moved to 39 Leith Walk, and then in 1825, he was employed at Thin & Co.'s marble works at 33 Leith Walk.

In 1827, he was listed in the Edinburgh Post Office Directory as a sculptor and marble cutter at Giles' Buildings, where he remained until 1829, when he moved to 15 Heriot Buildings after Thin & Co. ceased trading. In 1830, he moved his young family to Glasgow, where he became the manager of David and James Hamilton 's marble business and worked at James Cleland's statuary yard, 1830-31.

Mossman then set up his own business in Glasgow as a monumental sculptor in 1833, at 172 West Nile Street, later moving to 83 North Frederick Street in 1845, where he employed seven men and boys as carvers and hewers.

Amongst his apprentices and assistants at this time were James Shanks, John Crawford and Walter Buchan , who worked with Mossman and his sons on a number of sculpture schemes on buildings in and around Glasgow, and who went on to make their own distinguished contribution to the city's architectural sculpture after they left to start their own, albeit short-lived, businesses as carvers and modellers.

As an architectural sculptor Mossman carved the details on several of David Hamilton's buildings.

These include the lion masks on St. Paul's Church, John Street (1836, dem. 1906); the corbel heads at the entrance to Mosesfield, Springburn Park (1838); the heraldic shield and lion heads (now lost) on the Cleland Testimonial Building, Buchanan Street (1836) and the heraldic panel on the north front of Lennox Castle (1837-41).

In 1849, he carved the corbel heads on the new West front of Glasgow Cathedral, as well as restoring the building's ancient gargoyles.

He also executed death masks, chimneypieces for steamboats, designed the monument to Highland Mary, Greenock Cemetery (1841, carved by his son John Mossman) and carved the Gothic monument to Lord Cathcart in Paisley Abbey (1848).

Attempting to establish himself as a portraitist, he produced marble busts of James Cleland, reputedly the first marble bust executed in Glasgow (1831); David Hamilton (n.d.); Dr Aitken and Thomas Muir of Hunter's Hill (1831), but gave up after severe criticism.

His marble bust of David Hamilton (n.d.), however, was regarded by Thomas Gildard to have been a better likeness than that of the artistically more successful portrait by Patric Park .

With the opening of the Necropolis in 1833, followed by other large cemeteries in the city, e.g., Sighthill, 1840, and the Southern Necropolis, 1849, his success as a monumental sculptor, however, was assured and distinguished.

Interesting examples of his Necropolis work are the monuments to Lt. Joseph F. Gomoszynski, the Polish patriot, which is carved with his coat of arms (1845), and the obelisk to an unidentified woman which is carved with a poignant relief of a group of children mourning at a grave with a stone inscribed "Beloved Mother" (c. 1845).

Thereafter, he concentrated on training his sculptor sons in the family business.

Throughout his career, his workshop and home were at 83 North Frederick Street, which he shared with his wife, Jean McLachlan, whom he married in 1816, and their three sons, and later his daughters-in-law and his grandchildren, as well.

He Exhibited at RGIFA , 1829-33, including Copy of a Medicean Vase (1829), and Bust of a Gentleman (1831).

Mossman was buried in Sighthill Cemetery, his grave marked with a tall obelisk carved by his sons, reputedly to a design by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson .

Sources:

  • ML : Willim Mossman Job Book, 1835-9;
  • Gunnis 1951;
  • GCA : TD 110;
  • Gildard ;
  • POD 1823-51;
  • Dunkerley;
  • Stoddart;
  • McKenzie (1999) ;
  • Nisbet (Biog: W Mossman Senior), in McKenzie (2002) , p. 493;
  • E-mail from Caroline Gerard, 17th June, 2006;
  • Information from Caroline Gerard: 1851 Census Return, St David's, Glasgow, 644.1, Book 21, Page 9, Schedule 25;
 
Works in our Database:
1: Buchanan Street (City Centre),
Former Cleland Testimonial, 249 Buchanan Street
Coat of Arms (1835-6)
Sculptor: W Mossman Senior; Architects: D&J Hamilton
2: George Square (City Centre),
George Square
Monument to Sir Walter Scott (1834-8)
Sculptors: J Greenshields (modeller); J Ritchie (carver); W Mossman Senior (inscription);
Architect: D Rhind (column and pedestal); Mason: J Govan
 
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