Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
John Mossman
'The Father of Glasgow Sculpture'

John Mossman was born in Pimlico in London, on 10 April, 1817, the son of the Scottish sculptor William Mossman I , who was working for Sir Francis Chantrey at the time. He was the older brother of the sculptors George and William Mossman II , and the father of a third , who also became a sculptor.

He was born in the house of Allan Cunningham, author of the Lives and Works of British Painters, who was a fellow worker with Mossman's father in Chantrey's studio. He studied with his father and Chantrey, and later with Sir William Allan at the RSA in Edinburgh, in 1838, and with Marochetti in London, in the early 1840s.

After spending his formative years in Edinburgh, he moved to Glasgow c. 1830, and worked in his father's firm of monumental masons (known as J & G Mossman from 1857). He later made his name with the monument to the sculptor Peter Lawrence in the Necropolis, for which he sculpted the first free-standing figure produced in the West of Scotland by a sculptor rather than by a stonemason (1840).

It was soon after the completion of the Lawrence monument that he came to the attention of Marochetti, c. 1842, who was so taken by a marble bust he'd seen by Mossman during a visit to Glasgow that he invited him to complete his training with him in London.

After returning to Scotland, Mossman thereafter dominated the production and teaching of sculpture in Glasgow for the next 50 years; during which he executed a colossal amount of the city's architectural sculpture, several of its public monuments, and a prolific output of portrait busts and commemorative medallions and funerary monuments for his wealthy patrons. Such was his contribution to the artistic life, education and appearence of the city, it is perhaps time to accord him the recognition that he deserves by according him the title: 'The Father of Glasgow Sculpture'.

Mossman's earliest recorded commission for architectural sculpture was for the statues on the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street, which included his first portrait statues, the theatre's owner John Henry Alexander and the actor David Garrick, as well as allegorical figures of the muses Thalia and Melpomene (1839, demolished. 1879).

This was followed by a commission to execute allegorical statues for the Union Bank, 191 Ingram Street (now Corinthian) (1841-2), for which he later produced figurative groups for its extension in Virginia Place (1854-5) and its new Ingram Street facade (1876). He also did a significant amount of sculpture on the City Chambers in George Square, including the Trades of Glagow reliefs on the exterior, and the Caryatids in the main entrance hall.

Amongst the many other notable buildings he worked on are:

The McLellan Galleries, 254-90 Sauchiehall Street, for which he executed a colossal bust of Queen Victoria (1855); the Clydesdale Bank, 30 St Vincent Street, which features allegorical figure groups (1871-74); St Andrew's Halls (now The Mitchell Theatre), Granville Street, which features perhaps his finest free-standing architectural groups(1873-7); the Stock Exchange, 159 Buchanan Street, with its large-scale figurative medallions and statues (1874-7); Kelvinside Academy, 20 Bellshaugh Road, with fine relief work (1878); and the Glasgow Herald Building, 63-9 Buchanan Street, for which he produced statues of Caxton and Gutenberg (1879-80).

As a sculptor of public statues he became the most important in the West of Scotland, providing Glasgow with its bronze statues of Sir Robert Peel, George Square (1859); James Lumsden, Catheral Square (1862); David Livingstone, George Square (1875-9, moved to Cathedral Square, 1959); Thomas Campbell, George Square (1877); and Rev. Dr. Norman MacLeod, Cathedral Square (1881).

He also provided Paisley with its statues to Patrick Brewster (1863); Alexander Wilson (1874); and George A Clark (1885). Further afield he produced the bronze statue of Alexander Bannatyne Stewart for Rothesay on the Isle of Bute (1884), and the marble statue of Thomas Ormiston for the University of Bombay in India (1888).

His other public monuments include the Hugh MacDonald Memorial Fountain (1860); the Bailie James Bain Fountain (1873, demolished); and the Sir William Collins Memorial Fountain (1881), all of which were built on Glasgow Green; and the Stewart Memorial Fountain, Kelvingrove Park (1872); and the William Miller Cenotaph, Necropolis (1872).

A prolific society portraitist, his many busts include William Connal (1856), and the Duke of Hamilton (1864).

For Glasgow University he restored the marble Bust of Zachary Boyd by Robert Erskin, which had stood in a niche on the tower of the Old College buildings from 1658 until it was rescued from their demolition in the 1870s.

A founding member of GSA and the GIA , he taught modelling at the school and served as Visiting Master and on the Committee of Management until 1890, and trained several sculptors of note as students and as assistants in his own studio and workshops. These include John Crawford , J P Macgillivray and D M Ferguson .

Also a Freemason, he carved the Sphinxes on the arms of the throne in St John's Lodge, No. 3, of which many other Glasgow sculptors and architects were also members, including Charles Grassby and John Baird (No.1) , the throne's designer, and Alexander 'Greek' Thomson . Mossman was admitted to the 'sublime degree of Master Mason' at the lodge in May 1875.

Closely linked with the architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson throughout his career as a friend and collaborator, Mossman produced a bust of Thomson at the age of thirty (1847), and commissioned him to design his new studio and workshop at 83 North Frederick Street in July 1854.

Mossman's new studio stood at the corner of North Frederick Street and Cathedral Street, and was one of Thomson's first critical successes. It was designed in the 'pure Greek style' 'characteristic of Thomson's genius at its best' (Gildard), and featured friezes of ornament across its facades carved by Mossman's employees from patterns already familiar to them from theeir work on Thomson's other buildings.

Mossman lived and worked at 83 North Frederick Street from 1845, together with his father and brothers, and built and fitted out the new studio and workshop at great expense. He occupied the new building until 1875, by which time he had moved the workshop to 28 Mason Street (at the east end of the present Cathedral Street) in 1865, two years after the death of his brother George, and moved his home to 21 Elmbank Crescent, at Charing Cross. His old premises were to survive him by three years, until they were demolished in 1893.

A measured drawing of the building's North Frederick Street elevation, by J B Fulton, of 1893, is in the archives of GSA , and is reproduced in Gavin Stamp's book Alexander Thomson The Unknown Genius (1999, p. 176).

Mossman executed sculpture for many of Thomson's buildings and most of his cemetery monuments, including: the Buck's Head Buildings, 59-61 Argyle Street (1863), the Wodrow Monument, Eastwood Old Cemetery (c. 1849) and the Isabella McCulloch Monument in the Necropolis (c. 1867).

He also modelled Thomson's designs for the GIA Seal (1868) and was the natural choice to produce the Alexander Thomson Memorial Bust (1877, GMAG ). Mossman also contributed 10 to the memorial's subscription fund.

His firm of monumental sculptors, J & G_Mossman, produced an astonishing number of monuments for cemeteries in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, many of them incorporating sculpted ornament or portrait reliefs by Mossman in bronze or marble.

Involved in the design and carving of cemetery monuments since he was a boy, he was influenced in the styling of their figures and form by the work of John Flaxman , particularly in the carving of the Neo-Classical figures on the monument to Highland Mary in Greenock Cemetery, which he carved from a design by his father (1842); and illustrators such as J G Legrand, a copy of whose Monuments De La Grece (Paris, 1808), was owned by the Mossmans.

Although he is said to have retired in 1886, he did in fact continue working until his death in 1890. His final architectural projects were for sculpture on two major buildings by J J Burnet : the Poseidon Pediment and Putti on the Clyde Navigation Trust Building, 16 Robertson Street (1882-6), and the Artists and Scholars on the Athenaeum, 8 Nelson Mandela Place (1886-8).

Mossman died on 22nd September 1890, at Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute, whilst visiting his friend, Robert Greenlees, who had a holiday home in Lamont Place, Castle Street. He was 73 years of age. His cause of death was recorded as 'vascular disease of the heart'. He was buried in Glasgow's Sighthill Cemetery, where his grave is marked by a severely plain, horizontal granite ledger which he had ordered from his firm's workshop on 28th June 1877, at a cost of 25.1s.1d., after the death of his sculptor son, William.

Mossman bequethed his firm to his sculptor nephew, William (son of George Mossman), of Mossman & Wishart, but it was sold a year later to the monumental sculptor Peter Smith (1843-1911). Smith had been the manager of Mossman's granite workshop in the 1870s, before he left to set up his own business as a monumental sculptor. He acquired the business for 2.600, in 1891. He retained the firm's old name, J & G Mossman, and it continues to trade as such today under his descendants, the Pollock Smiths.

Portraits of John Mossman appear in several publications, including Norman McBeth's oil painting of Mossman working at a relief panel, which was published in From Glasgow's Treasure Chest, by James Cowan (writing as Peter Prowler, c. 1936). The portrait in the collection of Glasgow's Art Galleries and Museums. Another portrait, by Joseph Henderson, was exhibited at the first exhibition of the RGIFA , 1861-2 (present location unknown).

Of all the portraits done during his lifetime, it is the McBeth portrait which best captures Mossman's physical characteristics as described by his friend Thomas Gildard in his published reminiscences of his long familiarity with the sculptor and his work.

According to these, there were few grander looking men in Glasgow; his head was the same type as the writer Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, for whom he was once mistaken, and his figure was 'manly', his hair rich golden and wavy, and his carriage dignified and easy. His mind was cultivated and his manner gracious. Although not a society man or coveting social distinction, he preferred the company of close friends chatting at the fireside.

Gildard's recollections of Mossman were published in the Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Glasgow, 1890-92, after he presented them in a paper read to the society's Architectural Section, on 14 March 1892.

Other portraits include the caricature of Mossman published in The Bailie magazine's Men You Know series on 21 October, 1874 (Vol. 5, No. 105). This depicted Mossman holding a chisel and mallet, and standing in front of his statue of Alexander Wilson in Paisley, which he had recently completed in bronze from a sketch model by his brother, George Mossman.

He last appeared in The Bailie on Wednesday, 1 October 1890, a few days after his death, when a sketch portrait was done to accompany a poem published by the magazine to mark his passing:

John Mossman, H.R.S.A. Died 22nd September, 1890

Himself though dead, his works yet speak:
Though life is short, yet art is long,
Not art that's fever'd, cold, or weak,
But art that from its source is strong,
The spirit of the grand old Greek,
Whose godlike statues temples throng -
Such Mossman studied, large and free,
Free, yet by sov'reign law restrained;
The elements so mix' agree
That art is like to nature feign'd,
Motion and breath left out,' yet o'er
The glyptic form th' ideal thrown
As light was ne'er on sea or shore,
The spark divine by which there shone
The statue's soul.

Himself in face
And form a regal presence, where
Were join'd with dignity and grace
And carriage fit such stateliness to bear.

As was his art, so free and large
His heart and hand,; how few that knew
How many needy shared the charge
His bounty made! They were but two,
Himself and them - of humankind,
From men like him we lessons learn
In what of hand and mind is best.
In this I've feebly sought to earn
For humblest stone a place on Mossman's cairn

More recently, Mossman was included in sculptor Alexander Stoddart's unexecuted design for a sculpture group that was to be placed at Glasgow Cross, in the 1990s. Mossman had fascinated Stoddart from his student days at Glasgow School of Art, and was the subject of his dissertation in 1980: John Mossman, Sculptor: 1817-1890; which was the first survey and appreciation of Mossman's life and work to appear in modern times.

Despite the colossal contribution that Mossman made to the cultural and architectural heritage of Glasgow, the city has made no attempt to recognise this in any meaningful or permanent way; the City of Culture festival in 1990, and the City of Architecture and Design festival in 1999, being two important missed opportunities to accord him his rightful status as one of the city's greatest Victorian artists.

J & G Mossman Ltd closed its Glasgow office and showroom on 27 May 2011, although the company continues to trade from its main office at 42-4 Parkhead Road, Alloa, Clackmannanshire. Their departure from Glasgow, however, is a sad loss to the city, as it brings to an end the last surviving link the city had with John Mossman and his family and firm.

John Mossman exhibited at the RSA , 1840-86, the RA , 1868-79, and was elected HRSA in 1885.


  • POD : 1830-90;
  • A : (Henderson portrait of Mossman), 26 September 1890, p. 196 (ill.);
  • GH : (Cathedral Street studio), 10 July 1854;
  • GH : (Obituary), 26 September 1890;
  • Gildard ;
  • The Bailie, Men You Know, Vol. 5, No. 105, 21 October 1874 (ill.);
  • The Bailie, John Mossman, HRSA, 1 October 1890 (ill.);
  • Dunkerley;
  • Nisbet, Gary, in McKenzie (1999) , p. 493 (ills.);;
  • Nisbet, Gary, in McKenzie (2002) ; p. 109 (ills.);
  • Nisbet, Gary, Gary Nisbet's City Of Sculpture, The Scots Magazine: August 1990 (ills.);
  • Nisbet, Gary, John Mossman 1817-1890 A Bicentenary Celebration, The Scottish Genealogist, June 2017, pp. 39-48 ;
  • Stamp (1999) (ills.);
  • Stoddart (ills.);
  • Williamson et al. ;
  • Information from Caroline Gerard, email to Gary Nisbet, 12 Jauary 2009;
  • Death Record (John Mossman): North Bute, 557 23;
Works in our Database:
1: Argyle Street (Merchant City),
Buck's Head Buildings, 63 Argyle Street
Couchant Buck (1863-4)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: A Thomson
2: Buchanan Street (City Centre),
Former Glasgow Herald Building, 63-9 Buchanan Street
Statues of Caxton and Gutenberg (1879-80)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: J Sellars; Mason: John Morrison
3: Buchanan Street (City Centre),
Former Stock Exchange, 159 Buchanan Street
Three Allegorical Statues (Industry, Commerce, Agriculture), Five Roundels (Science, Art, Building, Engineering, Mining) and Capital Figures (1875-7)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: J Burnet; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
4: Cathedral Square Gardens (Townhead),
Cathedral Square Gardens
Monument to the Reverend Dr Norman Macleod (1881)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Assisted by: DM Ferguson; Foundry: James Moore of Thames Ditton
#61 5: Cathedral Square (Townhead),
Cathedral Square
Monument to David Livingstone (1875-9)
Sculptor: J Mossman;
Assisted by: F Leslie, JP Macgillivray;
Designers of pedestal: Campbell Douglas & Sellars; Foundry: Cox & Sons
6: Cathedral Square (Townhead),
Cathedral Square
Monument to James Lumsden (c.1859-62)
Sculptor: J Mossman
7: Elmbank Street (City Centre),
Former Strathclyde House, 94 Elmbank Street
Statues of Cicero, Galileo, James Watt and Homer (1878)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: C Wilson
#112 8: George Square (City Centre),
City Chambers, West Elevation - George Square.
In the spandrels of second-storey windows
The Trades and Industries of Glasgow (1883-8)
Sculptor: J Mossman;
Architect: W Young; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
9: George Square (City Centre),
City Chambers, West Elevation - George Square.
In the George Square entrance loggia
Two Pairs of Symbolic Caryatids (1883-8)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: W Young; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
10: George Square (City Centre),
City Chambers, North Elevation - George Street
Allegorical Figure Groups, Putti and Associated Decorative Carving (1883-8)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: W Young; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
11: George Square (City Centre),
George Square
Monument to Thomas Campbell (1875-7)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Assisted by: JP Macgillivray; Foundry: Cox & Sons
12: George Square (City Centre),
George Square
Monument to Sir Robert Peel (1859)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Foundry: Robinson & Cottam
13: Glasgow Green (Calton),
South of People's Palace
Hugh MacDonald Fountain (1872, Paisley; 1881, removed to Glasgow Green)
Sculptor: J Mossman (bronze profile portrait, now removed and replaced with a cement copy), unknown (fountain)
14: Glasgow Green (Calton),
Immediately east of McLennan Arch
Sir William Collins Memorial Fountain (1881-2)
Sculptor: J Mossman
15: Gorbals Street (Gorbals),
Citizens' Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street
Statues of Shakespeare, Burns and Four Muses (c.1878)
Sculptor: J Mossman;
Architects: Campbell Douglas (original building); Building Design Partnership (modern frontage)
16: Granville Street (Anderston),
Mitchell Theatre
Figurative Programme (1875-7)
Sculptors: J Mossman, W Mossman Junior; Assisted by: DM Ferguson;
Architect: J Sellars; Mason: J Watson
17: Ingram Street (Merchant City),
Corinthian, Former Union Bank of Scotland, 191 Ingram Street
Allegorical Statues, Narrative Tympana and Associated Decorative Carving (1841-3, 1853-4, 1876-9)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architects: J Salmon I and J Burnet
#429 18: Kelvingrove Park (West End),
Kelvingrove Park
Stewart Memorial Fountain (1872)
Sculptors: J Mossman and J Young;
Architect: J Sellars; Foundry: H Prince & Co; Builder: J Robertson
19: La Belle Place (Kelvingrove),
Former Queen's Rooms, 1 La Belle Place
Narrative Friezes, Portraits, Trophies
and Associated Decorative Carving (1857-8)

Sculptors: J Mossman assisted by W Buchan;
Architect: C Wilson; Builder: W York
20: Nelson Mandela Place (City Centre),
Former Athenaeum, 8 Nelson Mandela Place
Portrait Statues and Allegorical Figure Groups (1886-8)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Carver: JH Mackinnon; Architect: JJ Burnet
21: North Street (Anderston),
Mitchell Library, 201 North Street - Interior work
Portrait Bust of Stephen Mitchell (1881)
Sculptor: J Mossman;
22: Robertson Street (City Centre),
Clydeport Building,
16 Robertson Street, Broomielaw - First Phase
Allegorical Pediment Relief (1882-6)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: JJ Burnet; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
23: Robertson Street (City Centre),
Clydeport Building,
16 Robertson Street, Broomielaw - First Phase
Poseidon and Triton (1882-6)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: JJ Burnet; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
24: Robertson Street (City Centre),
Clydeport Building,
16 Robertson Street, Broomielaw - First Phase
Putti and Apprentices (1882-6)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: JJ Burnet; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
25: Robertson Street (City Centre),
Clydeport Building,
16 Robertson Street, Broomielaw - First Phase
Ship Prows (1882-6)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: JJ Burnet; Builders: Morrison & Mason Ltd
26: Sauchiehall Street (City Centre),
McLellan Galleries, 254-90 Sauchiehall Street
Bust of Queen Victoria (1854)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architect: J Smith
27: St George's Cross (Woodlands),
At the junction of Maryhill Road
St George and the Dragon (1897)
Sculptors: J&G Mossman
28: St Vincent Place (City Centre),
Clydesdale Bank, 30-40 St Vincent Place
Allegorical Figures, Coats of Arms
and Associated Decorative Carving (1871-4)

Sculptors: J Mossman, W Mossman Junior, CB Grassby;
Architect: JJ Burnet
#469 29: The Necropolis (Townhead),
On north side of Kirk Lane, Necropolis
Victoria Cross Memorial
Monument to Victoria Cross Winners (2007)

Sculptor: J&G Mossman
30: Wilson Street (Merchant City),
Former City and County Buildings, 40-50 Wilson Street,
70-4 Hutcheson Street, 117 Brunswick Street,
On the north end of the Brunswick Street façade
Series of Masks (1871-4)
Sculptor: J Mossman; Architects: Clarke & Bell
Open Full Sculpture Database

Click here to return to the top.

All images and biographies are our copyright and may not be reproduced
in any form whatsoever without our express permission.

Home Page |  Sculpture Database |  Sculptors & Designers |  Architects, Builders & Foundries |  Quick Tour
Acronyms |  Glossary |  Bibliography |  Useful Links |  About Us |  Privacy Policy |  Copyright | 
For sculpture and architecture: we have over 300 biographies of sculptors and architects connected with Glasgow, Scotland.
Copyright 2001-2024