Robert Forrest (1789‑1852) was born in Carluke, Lanarkshire, in 1789, where he trained as a stonemason. Self-taught as a sculptor, his early works were of small animals, but his talent soon caught the attention of the local gentry from whom he received encouragement and patronage. His first commission was of a Highland Chieftain in 1817, while his first major public piece was a statue of William Wallace, which still resides in a niche in the Tolbooth in Lanark. In 1822 he sculpted his most recognised work, the statue of Lord Melville that tops the column in St Andrew Square, the first public monument in Edinburgh’s New Town.
Forrest’s main sources of inspiration came from historical and literary figures, and he was heavily influenced by Romanticism and the poetry of Robert Burns (1759‑1796) and Allan Ramsay (1686‑1758). As a result, his works take on a distinctly Romantic and sentimental attitude and often depict historical figures with particular significance to Scotland, such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Walter Scott. In addition, his works tend to have a narrative element, encompassing or making reference to a historical event, myth or work of literature.
In 1829, the subscriptions to build the Parthenon monument on Calton Hill were running out and the Royal Association of Subscribers to the National Monument were looking for more funding. In 1831, Michael Linning (1775‑1838), who had been secretary to the Melville Monument Subscribers Committee and was also the secretary to the Royal Association of Subscribers to the National Monument, announced that he had secured access to a free supply of stone. He proposed that Robert Forrest create a collection of equestrian statues to be exhibited on Calton Hill to maintain and promote interest in the project. These became his Duke of Wellington, Duke of Marlborough, Mary, Queen of Scots with Lord Herries, and Robert the Bruce and the Monk of Baston (lot 180).
While the monument was never finished, the statues remained on Calton Hill for the next eighteen years. Forrest continued to expand the exhibition, sculpting Charles XII of Sweden and a Cossack Prince (lot 181), Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnny and King James V and the Gypsy among others. However, in 1834 Linning declared bankruptcy and died suddenly in the midst of having his property seized. This resulted in the Trustees demanding £800 from the Monument Association, which they could not pay. To meet this, the Association started charging Forrest rent for the display of his sculptures, which gradually increased until 1849, when he could no longer pay. Forrest had his sculptures removed, some of which went to Cheshire, whilst others, on Forrest’s death in 1852, were left to Edinburgh City Council.
By the 1870s, the city no longer had an interest in storing Forrest’s sculptures and approached Lyon & Turnbull to handle the sale of the collection in 1876. The principal buyer at the auction was David Mitchell, former head gardener to the Duke of Hamilton. Mitchell bought on behalf of the coalmine owner, Sir John Watson (1819‑1898), for the Neilsland and Earnock Estates in Lanarkshire. The purchases included Charles XII of Sweden and a Cossack Prince and Robert the Bruce and the Monk of Baston. Beginning in 1873 Watson developed his policies, under the direction of Mitchell, creating an extensive garden, with tiered terraced, water features and an arboretum including a rockery and replica Swiss cottage. Around the house and in various positions in the glen the statues carved by Robert Forrest were arranged.
Robert of Baston was a Carmelite monk who was well known for his verses and songs. It is said that, as a result of this reputation, he was taken by the Kings Edward I and Edward II on their military campaigns to Scotland. According to Scottish chroniclers, he was captured by Robert the Bruce and was forced, in return for his freedom, to write and sing verses about the defeat of his own countrymen. This is the event that is depicted in Forrest's sculpture. Baston is shown kneeling at the feet of Robert the Bruce and his horse, handing him some papers with a look of despair on his face.
When Earnock House was demolished in 1926 the statues were again sold through a Hamilton‑based auctioneer and purchased by construction company owner Murdoch Mackenzie for his estate in the Scottish Borders. The romantic figures of Robert the Bruce and Charles XII of Sweden became eye-catching features in an attractive woodland setting where they have remained until the present day, passing on to Murdoch’s son Donald Mackenzie who maintained and expanded the gardens.