James Watt, 1736-1819. Engineer, inventor of the steam engine

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James Watt, 1736-1819. Engineer, inventor of the steam engine about 1815


  • Scottish Art
James Watt achieved lasting fame as an engineer and scientist with his improvement of Newcomen's steam engine. After years of experimentation, in 1775 he entered into a partnership with businessman Matthew Boulton to produce the improved engine. Their success led to the opening of a purpose-built steam engine factory in 1796, after which Watt gradually withdrew from active participation. By 1814, when he commissioned his bust from Chantrey, Watt was a national – if reluctant – celebrity. Following its exhibition in 1815 at the Royal Academy, the bust was frequently reproduced in full-scale marble and plaster replicas, miniature copies in ivory for the mass market and commemorative medals, which is why this particular depiction of Watt is so well known.

Glossary Open


Sculpted portrait consisting of the head and the top of the shoulders.


When an individual or organisation employs an artist to execute a particular project, the process and the resulting work are termed a ‘commission’.

Royal Academy

An independent institution founded in 1768 with Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first president. It is governed by the Royal Academicians - leading painters, sculptors, printmakers and architects, which number no more than 80 at one time. It organises exhibitions at its London galleries, including an annual Summer Exhibition.

Bust, Commission, Royal Academy


  • Acc. No. PG 1186
  • Medium Marble
  • Size Height: 52.30 cm
  • Credit Purchased 1932