Lawson the Artist


George Anderson Lawson by Thomas Alexander Ferguson Graham, 1906

hubert and arther.jpg

Hubert and Prince Arthur by George Anderson Lawson, by 1884 (this version, 1901)

George Anderson Lawson was born in Edinburgh in 1832 to David Lawson and Anne Campbell. His artistic education followed the typical path of Scottish sculptors of his time, receiving an early education and then proceeding to have an apprenticeship while attending art school part time.[1] Lawson was apprenticed to Alexander Handyside Ritchie and attended the Trustees School of Design. After completing his training in 1860, Lawson moved to Glasgow for two years before traveling to Rome; on the way to or from there, Lawson likely visited Paris.[2] Upon his return, Lawson married Jane Frier and moved to Liverpool to work on his first major commission, a statue of the Duke of Wellington.[3] He had won this commission as part of a limited competition; his brother Andrew designed the monument accompanying the sculpture. This was the first of many commissions: Lawson was soon creating portrait sculptures to decorate public spaces all over the world.[4]

While these commissioned portraits are significant, Lawson’s typical work is narrative, often depicting characters drawn from literature and history. In her dissertation on Scottish sculptors, R. L Woodward points out the progressive nature of Lawson’s sculptural style. The level of naturalism in Lawson’s work is unprecedented and can be clearly seen in his earliest works. Narrative sculpture was uncommon in Scottish sculpture of this time, and his work is more consistent with contemporary British sculpture, as Scottish tastes tended to be conservative.[5]

By the time of the 1871 London census, Lawson had settled with his wife at 36 Gloucester Road, St. Pancras. The Scottish painter Thomas Graham was staying with the Lawsons at the time.[6] Scottish artists in London were often connected to one another, and Graham was also close to John Pettie, whom he shared a flat with in Fitzroy Square.[7] By 1881, Graham had moved on, and the Lawsons, who never had children, lived with a single servant.[8] In 1883 Lawson established a studio at 6 Marlborough Road, St. Marylebone,[9] that had been previously occupied by the Scottish landscape painter John MacWhirter.[10]

Despite living and working in England for most of his career, Lawson maintained personal and professional ties to Scotland. In the 1840’s, he contributed three sculptures to the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh, and he designed the pediment for the Glasgow City Chambers in 1883. After 1860, he exhibited regularly at both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy until 1892, Although he was elected as an honorary member of the SRA in 1884,[11] he never became even an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1869, John Pettie nominated him for an associate membership, and John Everett Millais seconded the nomination,[12] but it was unsuccessful. Lawson was nominated two more times, in 1874 and 1881, but both times failed to be elected.[13]

By 1891, Jane Lawson had passed away and George Lawson was living with a cook and a servant at 6 Marlborough Road.[14] In Lawson’s late career, he continued to execute naturalistic works in careful detail, as exemplified by his 1905 portrait bust of his friend John Pettie.[15] He completed one of his seminal works, Motherless, in 1889; it was shown in 1901 at the Glasgow International Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park.[16] Lawson died on September 23, 1904, at his home at 21 Church Road, Surrey. His work on the façade of the Aberdeen Art Gallery was completed postmortem, in 1905.[17]

Karuna Srikureja

[1] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Lawson, George Anderson (1832–1904),” by S. E Fryer, accessed October 19, 2016,

[2] Robin L. Woodward, “Nineteenth Century Scottish sculpture, a Biographical and Descriptive Catalogue,” PhD diss. (University of Edinburgh, 1979), 114.

[3] Oxford DNB, s.v. “Lawson.”

[4] Woodward, "Nineteenth Century Scottish sculpture," 115.

[5] Ibid., 155.

[6] “George Lawson,” London 1871 Census record, UK Census Online,

[7] Oxford DNB, s.v. “Graham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson (1840–1906),” by Elizabeth S. Cumming, accessed October 19, 2016,

[8] “George Lawson,” London 1881 Census record, UK Census Online,

[9] Woodward, "Nineteenth Century Scottish sculpture," 115. 

[10] Giles Walkley, Artists’ Houses in London 1764–1914 (Aldershot, Hants, England, and Brookfield, VT: Scolar Press, 1994), 252.

[11] Oxford DNB, s.v. “Lawson.”

[12] “George Anderson Lawson HRSA,” Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011, accessed 28 October, 2016,

[13] Woodward, "Nineteenth Century Scottish sculpture," 115.

[14] “George Lawson,” London 1891 Census record, UK Census Online,

[15] Woodward, "Nineteenth Century Scottish sculpture," 155.

[16] Ibid.,115. 

[17] Oxford DNB, s.v. “Lawson.”

Lawson the Artist