John Greenshields, Sculptor 1795 - 1835
Lesmahagow near Lanark was the birthplace of the mason sculptor - John Greenshields. He was born in 1795, the eldest of six sons of James Greenshields and his wife, Betty Jack. When Greenshields was young the family moved to Willans on the Clyde near Carluke and it was in the neighbouring village of Crossford that he began work as an apprentice mason and in his leisure time made his first attempts at sculpture. These included a carving of a greyhound and likenesses of his father and one of his brothers modelled in clay.
When he was about thirty, Greenshields was employed by Robert Forrest who at that time was carving a statue of Lord Melville for Edinburgh. His friendship with Forrest stimulated Greenshields’ interest in sculpture and he began to devote more time to studying art and modelling in clay.
During the late 1820s when working as a journeyman in Glasgow, he is reputed to have sought out and studied every work of art that he could. On establishing his own business about 1829, his practice consisted almost exclusively of commissions for gravestones, architectural decoration and ornamental figures for gateposts and gardens. In addition he worked on an uncommissioned project carving a small statue of Lord Byron. This he sent to John Flaxman whose admiration of the work encouraged Greenshields to reproduce it life- size and to carve several more figures including a pugilist and two cherubs, all of which were sold. A statue of George Canning, which was exhibited at Edinburgh, attracted much attention and brought Greenshields extensive patronage.
The most influential of his early patrons included James Stewart of Allanbank, William Blackwood, the eighth Earl of Elgin, William Lockhart and Sir Walter Scott. Lockhart provided him with blocks of freestone for statues of the Duke of York and King George IV and when the Duke of York statue was completed James Stewart arranged that it be displayed to potential patrons at Brompton. William Blackwood was a constant advisor to Greenshields, particularly in matters relating to the sale of his work and may have provided financial assistance as well as guidance in his business venture to sell small plaster reproductions of his statues.
Lord Elgin invited Greenshields to Broomhall to study the art treasures there and both he and James Stewart recommended Greenshields to Sir Walter Scott. While staying with William Lockhart in 1829, Scott visited Greenshields' studio which was on Lockhart's estate.
He was greatly impressed by Greenshields' work and was prepared to provide financial assistance to enable him to study in London but the offer was declined. - Greenshields received considerable publicity from his meeting with Scott and from his visits to Broomhall and to Blackwood House in Edinburgh where he met, among others Professor John Wilson (Christopher North) who in Noctes Ambrosianae referred to the sculptor as an original genius.
His workshop in Willans became such a fashionable visiting place that he was obliged to restrict visitors to one day a week to enable him to work undisturbed. Influenced by the popularity of James Thom’s work in the early 1830s, Greenshields turned to the production of figures illustrative of Burns’ writings. His group, “The Jolly Beggars” was a particular success; it was exhibited in several cities including London where it was on display in 1836 when Greenshields died. The previous year he had won the competition for the Glasgow statue of Sir Walter Scott; the work was unfinished when he died and was completed by
John Ritchie q.v. who had been second in the competition. A model of Greenshields’ group “The Jolly Beggars” was exhibited at the Glasgow Burns Exhibition of 1896.