This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.
This larger-than-life-sized bronze portrait of Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) which was crafted by Sir John Steell (1804–1891) was dedicated on the “Literary Walk” in Central Park in 1872.
Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had an early career in the legal profession. His literary endeavors were launched when he anonymously published translations of Burger’s Lenore and Der Wilde Jager, and Goethe’s Gotz von Berlichgen (1799). In 1802, Scott issued the first two volumes of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of old ballads, which reflected his interest in the native language and traditions of his country. His first significant original work was The Lay of the Last Minstrel, a narrative poem published in 1805.
Over the next quarter-century, Scott established himself as the pre-eminent Scottish author, and helped transform contemporary literature; his readers knew him as “The Wizard of the North.” He is credited with inventing the historical novel, and was a prolific practitioner of this genre. Waverley (1814) and Ivanhoe (1819) are some of the most famous examples of Scott’s romantic classics – other well-known works include Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), and The Bride of Lammermoor (1819).
In addition to his novels, he published a narrative poem, Lady of the Lake (1810), edited the author John Dryden’s (1631-1700) works (1808), published several plays - including Auchindrane or the Ayshire Tragedy (1830), the nineteen-volume set of The Life and Works of Swift (1814), the nine-volume Life of Napoleon (1827) - and a History of Scotland (1830). Yet at the height of his fame as a man of letters, Scott suffered enormous financial setbacks, and declared bankruptcy. He suffered two strokes in 1830, and died as a result two years later. It was only after his death that his debts were paid through the proceeds received from his numerous publications.
Scott’s work and career was marked with a nostalgia and pride in Scotland’s past, married to an acute awareness of its place in the modern world. It was Scott who rediscovered the country’s crown jewels – the Honours of the Kingdom – unearthing them from bricked-up chamber in Edinburgh Castle in 1818 after they had been lost for over 100 years. His novels based on Scotland’s history made the country a tourist destination, and some credit him with popularizing the romantic view of the country’s geography and culture that endures today.
In celebration of the centennial of Sir Walter Scott’s birth, a group of prominent Scottish citizens arranged for the placement of this sculpture in Central Park. They selected John Steell, a renowned sculptor from Edinburgh, to create a bronze replica of his marble of Scott (1845), the first such monument to a Scot to be created by a native artist.
Steell was born in Aberdeen, and was the son of a wood carver. After studying at the Trustees Academy and also in Rome, he became a member of The Royal Scottish Academy, and was appointed in 1838 Sculptor of the Queen of Scotland. He produced numerous public and private art commissions, and managed a foundry, which introduced the art of bronze casting to Scotland.
Steell’s effigy of Scott in Central Park eliminates the Gothic stone canopy - which critics have likened to “a spire without a cathedral” - of the original on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Scott is depicted seated on a rock, in a flowing cloak with workingman’s shoes, book and pen in hand. Beside him sits his faithful hound. The completed statue was formally unveiled here on November 2, 1872, where it joined the sculpture of William Shakespeare, installed earlier that year. A legion of Highlanders from the 79th Regiment, the National Guard and the Caledonian Club were part of the festivities. Among the speakers was poet, editor, and civic leader William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878), who commented, “and now as the statue of Scott is set up in this beautiful park, which a few years since, possessed no human associations, historical or poetic, connected with its shades, its lawns, its rocks and waters, these grounds become peopled with new memories.”
In 1936 Parks’s monuments crew repaired the base and repatined the bronze. In 1993, both the pedestal and sculpture were again conserved through the Adopt-A-Monument Program, a joint venture of the Municipal Art Society, Parks, and the New York City Art Commission. The restoration was funded by the Saint Andrew’s Society, which has also established a fund for ongoing care.
Sir Walter Scott Details
- Sculptor: Sir John Steell
- Description: Portrait statue on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Aberdeen granite
- Dimensions: H: 18' W: 13'6" D: 5'6"
- Dedicated: November 27, 1872
- Donor: Resident Scotsmen
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