Decorated initial S

cott‘s initial inclusion within the Pre-Raphaelite circle was through his friendship with the Rossetti brothers. On November 25, 1847 Dante Gabriel Rossetti had written to Scott express his admiration for his poems and to ask for an introduction. Soon afterwards Bell Scott called on the Rossetti family in London. Rossetti introduced Scott into the Pre-Raphaelite circle, which began a long-lasting relationship with many of its members and associates. His exposure to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had a profound beneficial influence on the direction of his own art and he began to paint in a Pre-Raphaelite style. When Scott died in December 1890 William Michael Rossetti wrote in his diary: “He was, I think, the very oldest and assuredly one of the dearest of my surviving friends” (Angeli, Rossetti, 140). Later Rossetti in his reminiscences gave a more critical appraisal of Scott, likely influenced because of Scott’s perceived betrayal of his friendship with the Rossetti family in his Autobiographical Notes.

The memoir is noted for its frankness and Scott came across to many of his contemporaries as ill-tempered and perhaps jealous of D. G. Rossetti’s reputation, both as an artist and poet, as compared to his own more limited accomplishments. W. M. Rossetti wrote:

As a painter, Scott had excellent powers of invention in the line of historic or romantic subject-matter, but he was not a good executant; on the contrary, truly a bad one – faulty (though far from wholly ignorant) in drawing, poor and sometimes tawdry in colour, and noticeably deficient in texture and surface-work…My brother and I were, for some years before 1847, fairly familiar with Scott’s work as an artist, and we did not entertain any exaggerated opinion of its merits; it was chiefly as a poet that he interested us” [(]Rossetti, Reminiscences, 130-31]

W. M. Rossetti’s daughter Helen commented: “What did Gabriel and the others see in him? His performance both in poetry and in painting was not of the highest order. His letters are rather dull and undistinguished; his autobiography is not brilliant or pleasant. He was neither good-natured, nor caustically witty in his ill-nature. He does not appear to have been particularly unselfish, or even loyal in friendship, to judge by his treatment of Gabriel. And yet he must have been lovable, for a number of people loved him. He was a popular companion and ever welcome crony” (Angeli, Rossetti, 151). Although the Rossetti’s discounted Scott’s artistic abilities this may have been largely due to what they felt was his betrayal of Gabriel in his autobiography. Scott’s paintings, in fact, show him to have been an artist of ability, even if he didn’t measure up to the first rank of the Pre-Raphaelite painters like Rossetti, Millais and Hunt. It is certainly possible that D. G. Rossetti’s limericks about Scott may have hit home and rankled him enough that his jealousy did influence his reminiscences of Gabriel.

There's a foolish old Scotchman called Scotus,
Most justly a Pictor Ignotus:
For what he best knew
He never would do,
This stubborn [old] donkey called Scotus.

There once was a painter named Scott
Who seemed to have hair, but had not.
He seemed too to have sense:
'Twas an equal pretence
On the part of the painter named Scott.

There can no doubt, however, that William Bell Scott was an important member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. In 1850 he contributed two poems to the P.R.B. publication The Germ. He was invited to join the Folio Sketching Club founded in 1854 that primarily consisted of members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. He exhibited at the First Pre-Raphaelite Group Exhibition held at 4 Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, in 1857. He later sent two oil paintings to The Exhibition of Modern British Art that toured America in 1857-1858. Scott became a member of the Hogarth Club in 1858. Although he was based in Newcastle until 1864, he participated in social functions with members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle when he visited London. During the time he was Master of the School of Design at Newcastle he encouraged local collectors, such as James Leathart, Jacob Burnett, Isaac Lowthian Bell, and Walter and Pauline Trevelyan to buy works by the Pre-Raphaelites. Scott had met Leathart when he was secretary of the School of Design in Newcastle. After Scott left for London in 1863 he continued to correspond with Leathart and advised him on new works for his collection.

Scott invited members of the Rossetti family, as well as other friends within the Pre-Raphaelite circle such as Arthur Hughes, William Morris, and Henry Wallis to visit him during the summer months he spent with Alice Boyd at Penkill Castle. Lawrence Alma-Tadema was another welcome visitor. The two men had initially become acquainted because Letitia Scott’s mother had been a schoolmate of Alma-Tadema’s mother-in-law Ellen Epps. After Scott’s return to London in 1864 he was very much part of the Pre-Raphaelite social scene. It was not until Scott moved back to London and came again into close contact with members of the Rossetti circle that he began to introduce current ideas regarding the subjectless, purely aesthetic purpose of painting into his own work. During this time that Scott painted his very few works of an "Aesthetic" nature including The Poet in Arcadia of 1866 and Proserpine Gathering Flowers of c.1865-70.

Scott and Alice Boyd

Portrait of Alice Boyd. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1862. Pencil on paper. 25.4 x 17.8 cm. Private collection.

Perhaps the most important relationship in Scott’s life was with Alice Boyd. He had first met her on March 18, 1859, while he was working on his mural commission at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. Miss Boyd was a spinster, aged thirty-three, while Bell Scott was much older at age forty-seven. He stated in his autobiographical notes: "She was somehow or other possessed to me, of the most interesting face and voice I had ever seen or heard" (Minto, II, 56-57). In July 1860 Bell Scott paid his first visit to Penkill Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland. Spencer Boyd, Alice Boyd's brother, died in 1862 and left her his fortune in iron works and coal mines, as well as Penkill Castle. Scott's began his mural decorations for Penkill Castle in encaustic on the walls of a circular staircase in 1865 and completed them in 1868. The murals were based on King James I’s poem The King's Quair. From the time of Bell Scott's and Alice Boyd's first meeting, until his death thirty-one years later, they were rarely separated. As Angeli has noted, “Scott looked to her for intellectual companionship, sympathy, and inspiration” (152).

After the Scotts returned to London to live in 1864 they lived in a ménage à trois with Alice. Letitia was seemingly little concerned about the relationship between her husband and Alice and their marriage appears to have been a rather loveless match. Alice would spend much of the winter with them in Chelsea, while they, in turn, would spend much of the summer with her at Penkill. Alice Boyd was fond of painting, and under Scott's guidance, she became a relatively accomplished artist. Boyd also encouraged Scott to take up landscape painting again and because of this he created some of his best Pre-Raphaelite landscapes. Alice Boyd nursed Scott through the illnesses of the last ten years of his life. The love of Scott and Alice Boyd remained steadfast and was only severed by his death. Alice Boyd was buried next to him in the graveyard of Old Dailly Churchyard near Penkill.

Links to Related Material about Scott and the Pre-Raphaelite Circhle


Angeli, Helen Rossetti. Dante Gabriel Rossetti His Friends and Enemies. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1949, 140-62.

Fredeman, William E. “A Pre-Raphaelite Gazette: The Penkill Letters of Arthur Hughes to William Bell Scott and Alice Boyd, 1886-1897.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, 50, No. 1, (1967): 34-82.

Fredeman, William E. “The Letters of Pictor Ignotus: William Bell Scott’s Correspondence with Alice Boyd, 1859-1884.” The Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, 58 (No. 1, 1977): 66-111.

Minto, W. Ed. Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott. 2 Vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1892.

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. I. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906.

Last modified 8 February 2022