Artist: Francis Grose

Date of Birth:
1731
Date of Death:
1791
Residence in Dumfries & Galloway:

Stayed with the Riddells at Friars Carse, near Dumfries, in 1789, beginning his two volume Antiquities of Scotland.

Bibliography:

The Antiquities of Scotland, Francis Grose, London, 1797.  A number of Grose’s watercolours of Dumfries and Galloway are to be found in the 9 volume Riddell collection at the Royal Scottish Museum (SAS 585).  Riddell’s manuscript indicates the date on which Grose did particular drawings.

The image of Grose is from the engraving after the portrait by Nathaniel Dance published in the Land of Burns, Glasgow, 1840.

Notes:

Was invited to Friars Carse, near Dumfries, by Robert Riddell, where he met Robert Burns.  Burns wrote to Mrs Dunlop: “I have never seen a man of more original observation, anecdote and remark”.  It is said that Tam O’Shanter was written in return for the inclusion of Kirk Alloway in Grose’s Antiquities (see bibliography).  At page xxi he wrote: “To my ingenious friend Mr Robert Burns, I have been variously obligated; he was not only at the pains of making out what was most worthy of notice in Ayrshire, the county honoured by his birth, but he also wrote for this work the pretty tale annexed to Alloway church” Volume 2 of the Antiquities contains the poem.  The Dumfries plates are : Hoddom Castle, Spedlin’s Castle, Torthorwald, Cowhill, Friars Carse, Morton Castle, Sanquhar Castle, Bow Butts, Closeburn Castle, Lag Castle, Aimsfield House, Dumfries Bridge, (After Sandby) Caerlaverock Castle.  Galloway plates are: Lincluden College, Threave, Sweetheart Abbey, Buittle Castle, Abbot’s Tower, Mote of Galloway, Dundrennan, Glenluce, Hills Tower, Kirkcudbright Castle, Kenmure Castle, Laggan Stone (By his servant Thomas Cocking ), Castle Kennedy, Dunskey Castle.  Grose indicated that his Dumfries bridge was taken from Paul Sandby’s drawing of 1747.


Most famous in Dumfries and Galloway for his friendship with Robert Burns, Captain Francis Grose was well-known throughout Britain for his artistry, knowledge of antiquities, wit and girth. The Dictionary of National Biography called him “a sort of antiquarian Falstaff”.

He was born in about 1730, the son of a wealthy jeweller who designed the crown for the coronation of King George III. After attending Shipley’s drawing school he was elected a member of the Incorporated Society of Artists in 1766, and became a member of the Society of Antiquaries in 1757. He followed a military career, until in 1769 he inherited his father’s considerable fortune. He must have run through it at a considerable pace, as by 1778 he had returned to the army as Captain and Adjutant of the Surrey Militia; that year he was court-martialled, probably for some “boyish prank”. His military duties seemed to lessen from the early 1780s onwards, allowing him more time for his antiquarian and other studies.

He had already issued the first part of his “Antiquities of England and Wales” in 1773, and this was completed in 1787; most of the drawings were his own. In 1788 he began work on “The Antiquities of Scotland” and stayed for over two months at Friar’s Carse, the home of Sir Robert Riddell. Robert Burns was living at the neighbouring property of Ellisland at the time, and was already on good terms with Sir Robert, and during Grose’s visit the two became “intimate acquaintances” according to Burns. Burns’ “On Captain Grose’s Peregrinations through Scotland” tells of Grose, and by inference their delight in each other’s company. Four of the stanzas are particularly relevant:-

Hear, Land o’ Cakes, and brither Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to Johnny Groat’s;
If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
                                    I rede ye tent it:
A chiel’s among ye, takin notes,
                                    And, faith, he’ll prent it.
If in your bounds ye chance to light
Upon a fine, fat, fodgel wight,
O’ stature short, but genius bright,
That’s he, mark weel;
And wow! He has an unco slight
                                    O’ cauk and keel.
But wad ye see him in his glee,
For meikle glee and fun has he,
Then set him down, and twa or three
                                    Guid fellows wi’ him;
And port, O port! Shine though a wee,
                                    And then ye’ll see him!
Now, by the powers o’ verse and prose!
Thou art a dainty chiel, O Grose!
Wha’er o’ thee shall ill suppose,
                                    They sair misca’ thee;
I’d take the rascal by the nose,
                                    Wad say, Shame fa’ thee!

In a way, Grose inspired Burns to his greatest work; he agreed to insert a description of Kirk Alloway into the “Antiquities” if Burns, in return, provided a poetic version of the story of witches there. The result was “Tam o’Shanter”.

Burns may have particularly enjoyed another of Grose’s books, “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”, published in 1785. Soon after completing the Scottish books Grose commenced the “Antiquities of Ireland” and died in Dublin in 1791.

In a poem of 1773 written about Grose

He’s judged, as artist, to inherit

No small degree of Hogarth’s spirit

And in 1788 his “Rules for drawing Caricaturas, with an essay on Comic Painting” was published, which contained ingenious diagrams. But it was his drawings in the “Antiquities” volumes that have ensured his place in artistic history.