John Dalton, by Francis Chantrey
John Dalton

John Dalton (1766-1844), by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). 1838. Marble, on a marble pedestal. Entrance vestibule, Manchester Town Hall, opposite the sculpture of his pupil J. P. Joule by Sir Alfred Gilbert. Despite the years that separate them, the two make a grand pair. Photographs, text, and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Some background has been digitially removed. Since copyright in the photographs has been assigned to Manchester City Council, they should not be reproduced without their permission. Click on the images to enlarge them.]

John Dalton was a Quaker chemist from Cumberland who came to Manchester first to teach mathematics and natural philosophy at what was then "Manchester New College" (Wyke 32). His discoveries were hugely important in the development of atomic theory — he "changed the philosophy of chemistry," providing "the first rudimentary table of atomic weights" (Greenaway). Chantrey asked the great man to come to London to sit for him, making a friend of him, in his usual way, before completing the work. In this informal, apparently quite unposed life-size study, he shows Dalton sitting in his academic robes musing over something he has read, the book held closed in one hand, and some scientific apparatus at his feet. The fact that the statue was commissioned in Dalton's own lifetime was "a rare public tribute" (Information plaque).

The two statues are not shown off to their best advantage in the vestibule, because of background distractions and dim light — the latter being something that Chantrey's early biographer complained of long ago (Jones 84). Terry Wyke considers this and Gilbert's statue of Joule opposite it to be "two of the city's finest portrait statues" (32).



References

Greenaway, Frank. "Dalton, John (1766-1844)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 21 March 2012.

Information plaque beside the statue (visible in the photograph).

Jones, George, R.A. Sir Francis Chantrey, R.A. Recollections of His Life, Practice, and Opinions. London: E. Moxon, 1849. Internet Archive. Web 21 March 2012.

Wyke, Terry, with Harry Cocks. Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004.


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Last modified 21 March 2012