Sir Francis Grant PRA (1803 - 1878)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Francis Grant PRA was born on 18 January 1803 in Edinburgh, the fourth of seven children of Francis Grant (1746-1819), Laird of Kilgraston, Perthshire, a landowner with estates in Scotland and Jamaica, and his wife, Anne Oliphant. He was educated at Harrow School and Edinburgh High School. Sir Walter Scott wrote about the young Francis Grant in his journal of 1831:

‘In youth, that is extreme youth, he was passionately fond of fox-hunting and other sports … He also had a strong passion for painting, and made a little collection. As he had enough sense to feel that a younger brother’s fortune would not last long under the expenses of a good stud and a rare collection of chef-d‘œuvres, he used to avow his intention to spend his patrimony, about £10,000, and then again to make his fortune by the law. The first he soon accomplished. But the law is not a profession so easily acquired, nor did Frank’s talents lie in that direction. His passion for painting turned out better.’

Grant studied law for one year, before taking up painting. From 1820, he frequented the hunts at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, where he became acquainted with the sporting artist John Ferneley. He studied painting briefly with Ferneley, and possibly with Alexander Nasmyth in Edinburgh. In 1826 Grant married Amelia Farquharson, the daughter of a Scottish laird; Amelia died in 1827, after the birth of their son. In 1829 he married Isabella Elizabeth Norman, a niece of the 5th Duke of Rutland; they had three sons and four daughters.

Through his second wife, Grant gained access to a clientele in the hunting set in Melton Mowbray; her uncle, the 5th Duke of Rutland was the leader of hunting society. His first successes were sporting pictures. In 1834 Grant’s The Melton Breakfast (Private Collection) was shown at the Royal Academy, and proved extremely popular as an engraving. In 1837 The Meeting of his Majesty’s Staghounds on Ascot Heath (ex Christies, 31 May 1918) was exhibited at the Royal Academy, and in 1855 it was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Grant’s next major sporting picture, The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover (exh. RA, 1839; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), was praised for its accurate portrayal of thirty-six riders, as well as its lively and varied composition.

In 1840, Grant was commissioned to paint Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria Riding out (exh. RA, 1840; Royal Collection) depicts the queen taking exercise in Windsor Great Park with members of her household. Victoria’s diaries record his process for painting such large multi-figure equestrian portraits. Grant generally painted the horses in his studio, which was equipped for live animals. For the portraits, he posed his sitters astride a wooden horse, and the queen described Lord Melbourne sitting to Grant ‘on that wooden horse without head or tail, looking so funny, his white hat on, an umbrella in lieu of a stick’ (O. Millar, The Victorian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 2 vols, 1992, p. 84).

The success of Queen Victoria Riding out allowed Grant to concentrate primarily on portraiture. He painted many of the famous figures of his day, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in equestrian portraits for Christ’s Hospital, London (exh. RA, 1846; governors of Christ’s Hospital, London), Henry Hardinge, first Viscount Hardinge of Lahore (exh. RA, 1850; NPG), Benjamin Disraeli (exh. RA, 1852), Edwin Landseer (c.1852; NPG), John Russell, first Earl Russell (1853; NPG), and Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron Macaulay (1853; NPG). Grant’s portraits of women were particularly popular. Important examples include The Daughters of the Duke of Norfolk (exh. RA, 1848; private collection) and Louise, Marchioness of Waterford (1857; NPG). His portraits of his daughters, Daisy Grant (exh. RA, 1857; NG Scot.) and Miss Elizabeth Grant (1851; RA), are amongst his most experimental.

Grant was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1842, and Royal Academician in 1851. In 1866, following the death of Charles Eastlake, and after his friend Edwin Landseer declined the position, Grant was elected President of the Royal Academy; that same year he was knighted. As president, he negotiated the Royal Academy’s 999-year lease on Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, and oversaw its renovation. Grant introduced honorary memberships in 1868, and began the tradition of the winter loan exhibition in 1869/70.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project – Extended Biography Francis Grant PRA was the fourth of seven children of Francis Grant (1746-1818), Laird of Kilgraston, Perthshire, a landowner with estates in Scotland and Jamaica, and his wife Anne Oliphant (see Note 1). In his will, Francis Grant of Kilgraston placed in trust his property including Blackness Estate in Westmoreland Jamaica to secure an annuity of £500 p.a. to his wife over and above the annuity of £500 already settled on her, and to secure £10,000 for his children. His executors were awarded compensation for the Blackness Estate. Francis Grant of Kilgraston was possibly the same Francis Grant who was active as a slave-factor at Montego Bay 1789-1792. His brother John Grant (died 1793) was Chief Justice of Jamaica 1783-1790 (see Note 2); he purchased Kilgraston estate, later inherited by his brother. Both brothers also worked as attorneys, managing plantations for absentee landowners.

Notes 1. UCL Department of History, ‘Francis Grant’, in UCL Department of History (ed.), Legacies of British Slave-ownership, London 2020 (accessed 12 July 2023) 2. UCL Department of History, ‘John Grant’, in UCL Department of History (ed.), Legacies of British Slave-ownership, London 2020 (accessed 12 July 20230 3. The Edinburgh Legal History Blog, ‘Scottish Chief Justice of Jamaica (18th century) and his Court Reports’. (accessed 12 July 2023) 4. Douglas Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic world, 1750–1820.

Relevant ODNB entries

A Cassandra Albinson. “Grant, Sir Francis (1803-1878), portrait and sporting painter.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 12 July 2023.


Royal Academician

Born: 18 January 1803 in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Died: 5 October 1878

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 7 November 1842

Elected RA: 10 February 1851

President from: 1866 - 1878

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Sir Francis Grant in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir Francis Grant in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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