William Brodie was the eldest son of a shipmaster and merchant seaman. He became a plumber but also took evening classes at the Mechanics’ Institute in Aberdeen which offered adult education for manual workers in art and science subjects. Brodie began experimenting with modelling small portraits in wax and clay. As his artistic skill attracted attend the Trustees' Academy School of Design in Edinburgh in 1846. In 1852, he continued his studies in Rome and returned to Edinburgh the following year. A steady stream of portrait commissions ensured his success. Although somewhat overshadowed by his rival John Steell, Brodie also worked on a number of important public commissions, including the famous memorial in Edinburgh to the loyal terrier known as Greyfriars Bobby. Brodie’s own style looked back to the classically inspired work of Francis Leggatt Chantrey. Many sculptors of the next generation trained in Brodie’s studio, including James Pittendrigh MacGillivray.