SIR FRANCIS GRANT, PRA
Edinburgh 1803 – 1878 Melton Mowbray
Francis Grant was the fourth son of Francis Grant, laird of Kilgraston, Perthshire, and his wife Anne Oliphant of Rossie; in 1818, upon his father’s death, he received the handsome patrimony (for a younger son) of £10,000. Abandoning his legal studies at Edinburgh University, he briefly entered the studio of the landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth, but was largely self-taught, encouraged by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Elgin. Handsome, witty and a passionate rider to hounds, Grant spent his winters in Melton Mowbray and, as Queen Victoria commented in her diary, ‘[he] was a gentleman….spent all his fortune, and now paints for money’. In the 1820s he collaborated with John Ferneley Snr on several hunting paintings, providing the portraits of the riders (Grant was renowned for hitting an excellent likeness) while Ferneley portrayed the horses. In 1826 Grant eloped with Amelia Farquharson of Invercauld, who came from one of the most prominent landowning families of Scotland. Sadly, she died a year later, shortly after giving birth to their son, and in 1829 Grant married Isabella Norman, a niece of the Duke of Rutland.
In 1834 Grant moved to London and gained acclaim at the Royal Academy with The Melton breakfast (private collection of the Earl of Cromer, Jersey), an elegant conversation piece influenced by the painterly style of David Wilkie. In 1840 he painted the young Queen Victoria riding out (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). With his charm and social connections he was in demand for society and equestrian portraits as well as complex hunting groups such as The Ascot Hunt, 1835 (private collection, Santander, Spain), which gained him a gold medal at the 1855 Exposition Universelle. His portraits include the dashing, romantic portrayal of Benjamin Disraeli, 1851 (Hughenden Manor, National Trust), as well as Prince Albert and Sir Walter Scott. His later works (often on a large scale) are notable for broad brushwork and sober colouring. In the 1870s Grant made a number of acutely observed paintings of deer on the Perthshire hills, the intensity of their response to nature an escape valve for the endless round of portraits.
Francis Grant became an ARA in 1842 and RA in 1851. In 1866 he was elected President of the Royal Academy, despite Queen Victoria’s misgivings that ‘He has decidedly much talent, but it is the talent of an amateur’. As was traditional, Grant was given a Knighthood. He was a tactful and energetic President, who masterminded the move of the Academy to Burlington House in Piccadilly in 1869. Active as a painter until the end, he died in his beloved Melton Mowbray in 1878.