Ross, William Charles (DNB00)

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ROSS, Sir WILLIAM CHARLES (1794–1860), miniature-painter, descended from a Scottish family settled at Tain in Ross-shire, was born in London on 3 June 1794. He was the son of William Ross, a miniature-painter and teacher of drawing, who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1809 to 1825. His mother, Maria, a sister of Anker Smith [q. v.], the line-engraver, was a portrait-painter, who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1791 and 1814, and died in London on 20 March 1836, aged 70.

At an early age young Ross evinced great ability, and in 1807 received from the Society of Arts the lesser silver palette for a copy in chalk of Anker Smith's engraving of Northcote's ‘Death of Wat Tyler.’ In 1808 he was admitted into the schools of the Royal Academy, where he received from Benjamin West much kind advice, and in 1810 gained a silver medal for a drawing from the life. The Society of Arts also, in 1808, awarded to him a silver medal for an original drawing of the ‘Judgment of Solomon,’ and in 1809 the larger silver palette for an original miniature of ‘Venus and Cupid,’ which he exhibited with two other works, ‘Mordecai Rewarded’ and ‘The Judgment of Solomon,’ at the Royal Academy in the same year. For some years afterwards his exhibited works were mainly of a classical character, and in 1825 he sent to the Royal Academy a large picture representing ‘Christ casting out Devils.’ He further received from the Society of Arts, in 1810, the silver medal and twenty guineas for an original drawing of ‘Caractacus brought before Claudius Cæsar;’ in 1811 the silver medal and twenty guineas for an original drawing of ‘Samuel presented to Eli;’ in 1816 the gold Isis medal for an original portrait of the Duke of Norfolk, president of the society; and in 1817 the gold medal for an original historical painting, ‘The Judgment of Brutus.’ At the age of twenty he became an assistant to Andrew Robertson [q. v.], the eminent miniature-painter; and, although his first ambition was to excel in historical painting, he thought it advisable to abandon the higher branch of art for the more lucrative one of miniature-painting. He soon obtained a large practice in the highest circles. In 1837 Queen Victoria and the Duchess of Kent sat to him, and in succeeding years Queen Adelaide, the Prince Consort, the royal children, and various members of the royal families of France, Belgium, Portugal, and Saxe-Coburg. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1838, and in 1843 a royal academician, and was knighted on 1 June 1842. The Westminster Hall competition of 1843 led him to turn his hand once more to historical composition, and he sent a cartoon of ‘The Angel Raphael discoursing with Adam,’ to which was awarded an extra premium of 100l. He continued, however, to hold the first place among miniature-painters until 1857, when he was struck down by paralysis while engaged on portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale, with their two sons. He never entirely recovered, and died unmarried at his residence, 38 Fitzroy Square, London, on 20 Jan. 1860. He was buried in Highgate cemetery. Courtly and unassuming in manners, amiable and cheerful in disposition, and of high character, he won general esteem. There is a portrait of him, by Thomas Henry Illidge, which was engraved on wood for the ‘Art Journal’ of 1849, and a miniature, by his brother, Hugh Ross (see below). An exhibition of miniatures by him was held at the Society of Arts early in 1860, and in June his remaining works were sold by Messrs. Christie, Manson, & Woods. A miniature portrait of himself, a portrait of his father in red and black chalk, and other works by him are in the South Kensington Museum.

Ross held the same position with respect to miniature-painters that Lawrence did among portrait-painters. Others have surpassed him in power of expression, but in refinement, in purity of colour, and in truth, he had no rival. His portraits of men are marked by a strong individuality, while his women charm by their grace and delicacy. His miniatures numbered in all above 2,200, of which about three hundred were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Those of Queen Victoria and of the Prince Consort have been engraved by Henry Thomas Ryall [q. v.]; that of the Duchess of Nemours by Charles Heath, for the ‘Keepsake’ of 1843; that of Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, afterwards emperor of the French, by F. J. Joubert; and those of Charlotte, duchess of Marlborough, and of James, third marquis of Ormonde, by W. J. Edwards.

Hugh Ross (1800–1873), younger brother of Sir William Charles Ross, was also a miniature-painter, and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1814 to 1845. Magdalene Ross (1801–1874), a sister, who likewise practised the same branch of art, exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1820 and 1856; she married Edwin Dalton, a portrait-painter.

[Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists of the English School, 1878; Athenæum, 1860, i. 135; Art Journal, 1849 p. 48, and 1860 p. 72; Gent. Mag. 1860, i. 513; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1862, ii. 171–4; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1809–59.]

R. E. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.239
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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281 ii 21f.e. Ross, Sir William C.: for 1870 read 1800