My Favourite Niel Gow

On 12 March I posted a poor scan of an image of Niel Gow that had been brought to my attention. Imagine my delight when I returned home from foreign parts to find an original copy of the engraving waiting in my mail:


The likeness, which is one of my favourities, could not possibly have been drawn from life as the young artist, was born after Gow had died. It is possible that he worked from another’s sketch but the Raeburn painting was clearly the most likely inspiration.

The engraving was published in the Portrait Gallery section of Hogg’s Instructor (Edinburgh, 1854-), a serial publication from the son of the poet and Ettrick Shepherd of the same name. Unfortunately I do not yet know which volume it is from but the sender kindly included two pages from a longer biography of Niel (pages 289 and 230) that will be essential reading for Gowites.

The artist was Francis Croll (c. 1826 – 1854). The Dictionary of National Biography tells us:

CROLL, FRANCIS (1826?–1854), line engraver, was born at Musselburgh about 1826. At a very early age his talent for drawing attracted the notice of the Scottish sculptors, Alexander and John Ritchie, who urged his friends to cultivate it. He was accordingly articled to Thomas Dobbie of Edinburgh, an excellent draughtsman and naturalist, but less known as an engraver, under whose tuition Croll made good progress in drawing, but not so much in engraving. The death of his master, however, before the completion of his apprenticeship led to his being placed for two years to study line engraving under Robert Charles Bell [q. v.], and during the same time he attended the schools of the Royal Scottish Academy, then under the direction of Sir William Allan [q. v.], from whose instruction and advice he derived much benefit. His earlier works were some plates of animals for Stephens’s ‘Book of the Farm,’ some portraits for ‘Hogg’s Weekly Instructor,’ and a small plate from James Drummond’s picture of ‘The Escape of Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh.’ In 1852 he executed for the ‘Art Journal’ an engraving of ‘The Tired Soldier,’ after the picture by Frederick Goodall in the Vernon Gallery. He also engraved for the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland one of a series of designs by John Faed to illustrate ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night’ of Robert Burns. During the progress of this plate he was attacked by heart disease, and soon after its completion a career of much promise was closed by his death in Edinburgh, 12 Feb. 1854, at the early age of twenty-seven.

[Scotsman, 18 Feb. 1854; Art Journal, 1854, p. 119.]

R. E. G.