Born in Aberdeen, he trained as a wood carver in Edinburgh with
his father, a carver and gilder, and at the Trustees Academy, before
studying and working as a sculptor in Rome.
After returning, he became the most important sculptor of his
generation in Scotland and operated the first sculpture foundry in
Much of his prodigious output of public monuments and portrait
busts are in Edinburgh. These include the statues of Sir Walter
Scott, Scott Monument (1846); Allan Ramsay (1850);
Alexander Taming Bucephalus (1832, erected 1883); and the
equestrian monuments to the Duke of Wellington (1848-52),
and the Prince Consort (1876).
Outwith Scotland, he was responsible for the statues of Lord Dalhousie,
Calcutta (1864), a seated statue of Robert Burns for Central Park, New York
(1874) and its copy in Embankment Gardens, London (1883).
Despite his fame and friendship with
(Mossman's statue of George A. Clark, Paisley was cast at Steell's Grove Foundry,
in 1884) he received only one commission for a monument in the city, the
93rd Sutherland Highlanders Monument (Crimean War), in Glasgow
However, the city once posessed his earliest
arhitectural sculpture: a group representing the
Goddess Ceres with a widow, an orphan and a rustic youth, which had been carved for the Scottish
Widows Fund Life Assurance Society in Edinburgh, and relocated to their
Glasgow Building at 141 Buchanan Street, in 1860 (dem. c. 1973) (Glasgow
Gazette, Statuary, 9 June, 1860, p. 6).
Another early Edinburgh work, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, a
tympanum group for the Standard Assurance Company, 1-31 George Street
(1839, repeated at their Dublin Offices, 1868), was later copied by
as a pediment group on the firm's Standard Buildings,
82-92 Gordon Street, Glasgow, 1890.
Steell was knighted in 1876, after the unveiling of his monument to the Prince
Consort in Edinburgh.
He exhibited at the RSA
, 1827-80, and the RA
He died in Edinburgh and is buried in the Old Calton Cemetery.