William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890) was a member of a Scottish family of painters, son of Robert Scott (1771-1841), an illustrator and engraver, and brother of David Scott, a painter and engraver.
Scott trained at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh and was taught engraving by his father. He saw the family print workshop as ‘the lineal descendant of Albert Dürer’s factory in Nürnberg’; he was later to own a fine collection of Dürer’s prints and write a book about him (1870).
In 1837 he went to London, where he was impressed by ‘a new and interesting school of historical and loosely speaking, inventive and illustrative painters’. This encouraged him to leave landscape painting for the time being and become a history painter. Like his brother, he entered a cartoon for the Westminster Hall competition in 1842: the Free North Britons Surprising the Roman Wall between the Tyne and Solway; this too was unsuccessful.
In 1843, discouraged by lack of patronage in London, he accepted the Mastership of the Government School of Design at Newcastle upon Tyne, where he stayed for 20 years, visiting London each summer. He was as much a poet as a painter, and his poem Rosabell (1846) excited the admiration of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who became a lifelong friend. In 1853 his Poems of a Painter was published.
His poetry, which he published at intervals (notably Poems, 1875, illustrated by etchings by himself and Alma-Tadema), recalled Blake and Shelley, and was considerably influenced by Rossetti; he also wrote several volumes of artistic and literary criticism, and edited Keats, L.E.L., Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Shakespeare and Scott.
He resigned his appointment under the Science and Art Department in 1885, and from then till his death he was mainly occupied in writing his reminiscences, which were published posthumously in 1892, with a memoir by Professor Minto. It is for his connection with Rossetti’s circle that Bell Scott will be chiefly remembered.