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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Alexander Handyside Ritchie (1804–1870)

Sculptor. Born in Musselburgh, East Lothian, he was the son of a brickmaker and ornamental plasterer, from whom he ‘acquired that remarkable dexterity in modelling which characterised him to the last’. On the advice of Leonard Horner, the founder of the School of Arts in Edinburgh, he moved to Edinburgh to study architecture and anatomy, and in 1823 was enabled through the patronage of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch to join the studio of Samuel Joseph, then resident in Edinburgh. He also studied at the Trustees’ School of Design, travelling to London during his vacation to make models from the Elgin Marbles. Early commissions for portrait busts of many of the leading figures in Edinburgh – including Lord Jeffrey and Lord Cockburn, William Playfair and Sir William Gibson Craig – enabled him to travel to Rome, where, through the intercession of the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Minto, he became the assistant of Bertel Thorwaldsen. He was reported to be the favourite pupil of the great Danish artist, who awarded him a gold medal and regarded the copy he made of his own statue of Ganymede as among the best of its kind. He returned to Musselburgh in 1830, and in 1842 established a studio at 92 Princes Street, Edinburgh. Assisted by his brother John Ritchie, and for a time by the young John Rhind, he executed portrait busts for wealthy patrons, as well as personal friends such as George Meikle Kemp, the architect of Edinburgh’s Scott Monument, but his reputation was built chiefly on his statues and reliefs for major building schemes, such as David Rhind’s Commercial Bank, George Street, Glasgow (1847). He also worked for John Thomas on the Houses of Parliament, London, executing marble statues of Eustace de Vesci and William de Mowbray. His many public monuments include statues of Sir Walter Scott, Selkirk, Scottish Borders (1839), Sir Robert Peel, Montrose, Angus (1855), Hugh Miller, Cromarty, Scottish Highlands (1859) and Sir William Wallace, Stirling (1859), as well as an important group of statues in the Valley Cemetery and other locations in Stirling. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy (1831–69), and the Royal Academy (1830–68), and was elected ARSA in 1846. Despite considerable artistic success and aristocratic patronage, he died virtually penniless, leaving an estate valued at £6 10s. 6d.

Bibliography: W.T. Johnston, Dictionary of Scottish Artists (c.2000), Scottish National Library, ref CD-ROM.585; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, passim; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 177–78, 306–08, 438–39, 459; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; Scotsman, 28 April 1870, p. 3 (obit.); R.L. Woodward, ‘Nineteenth-Century Scottish Sculpture’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1977, pt 2, pp. 200–04.

Ray McKenzie 2018

Ritchie, Alexander Handyside

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Alexander Handyside Ritchie, calotype, 1843–1848; NPG P6(33)
© National Portrait Gallery, London