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Scott, William Bell

    Full Name: Scott, William Bell

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1811

    Date Died: 1890

    Place Born: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

    Place Died: Penkill Castle, Strathclyde, Scotland, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Career(s): art critics, authors, painters (artists), and poets


    Painter, poet and writer on art. Bell was the seventh child of Robert Scott and Ross Bell (Scott). His four eldest brothers died in an 1807 epidemic. Bell himself was educated at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh, learning engraving, and publishing Views of Loch Katrine and Adjacent Scenery before he was twenty. Though he never attended college, Bell convinced the Board of Trade in 1837 to offer him the founding headmastership in the Government School of Design in London. The same year, “a new and interesting school of historical and loosely speaking, inventive and illustrative painters’ attracted his attention, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1846 his poems “The Year of the World,” “Rosabell” and “A Dream of Love,” published in the February and March numbers of Leigh Hunt’s Monthly Repository, inspired Dante Gabriel Rossetti to seek him out in a letter of 1847. Scott and Rosetti advised and inspired each other for most of the rest of their lives. Scott left the School in1851 for the Department of Practical Art in Newcastle, under the direction of Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882). It was then that he started dabbling in art-historical writing. In 1859, Scott met Alice Boyd. Boyd and Scott’s wife, Letitia Norquoy, maintained a love triangle of inspiration and passion for the next twenty-six years. Rossetti spent the summer of 1868 and 1869 with Scott and Boyd at Penkill Castle, Boyd’s home. At the castle, Rossetti resolved to take up poetry again after a vow not to because of the death of his muse, Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862). Bell reviewed the 1870 biography of Albrecht Dürer by Mary Margaret Heaton, criticizing it as “hysterical and prejudiced,” only to use large portions of her translations of Dürer documents–unacknowledged–in his own book of Dürer of the same year. Swinburne abhorred Scott, pronouncing him “the Parasite of the North.” A mediocre painter and historian, his fame largely rests with the poetry he wrote and helped inspire in Rosetti.

    Selected Bibliography

    The British School of Sculpture. London: Routledge, 1872; Albert Durer: His Life and Works. London: Longmans, Green, 1869; Antiquarian Gleanings in the North of England: Being Examples of Antique Furniture, Plate, Church Decorations, Objects of Historical Interest, etc. London: G. Bell, 1851?; William Blake: Etchings from his Works. London: Chatto and Windus, 1878.


    Eisler, Colin. “Lady Dilke (1840-1904): The Six Lives of an Art Historian.” in Sherman, Claire Richter and Holcomb, Adele M., eds. Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981, p. 155; Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler (Thieme-Becker) 30: 409.


    "Scott, William Bell." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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