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The Scottish Nation

FILLANS, a surname evidently having the same origin as St. Fillan – the root also fo Gilfillan – (which see), and probably derived from the Saxon word fyllan, to fill, although, doubtless, a Gaelic origin may also be assigned to it, the famous saint mentioned, whose name has been given to so many chapels and pools in Scotland, and is associated with so much absurd superstition, having lived so far back as the seventh century. He was abbot of Pittenweem, but having turned a hermit, he died in the wolds of Glenorchy in Argyleshire in 649. In the old monkish legends regarding him it is stated that while engaged in transcribing the Scriptures, he left hand was observed to shine with so much splendour as to afford him light enough to enable him to proceed with his work, as he used to spend whole nights in that exercise. Lesley, in his seventh book, says that this wonderful arm afterwards came into the possession of Robert the Bruce, who enclosed it in a silver shrine, which he ordered to be carried at the head of his army, but that previous to the battle of Bannockburn, the king’s chaplain, with the view of preserving it from the English, took it out and deposited it in some place of security. While, however, the Bruce was addressing his prayers to the empty shrine, it was observed to open and shut suddenly; and, on inspection, the saint was found to have himself deposited his luminous arm in its old place, as an assurance of victory! The belief in the power of St. Fillan in the cure of lunacy was long held in the Highlands, and the superstitious observances by which his aid was supposed to be procured, were for centuries performed at his chapel and pool in Strathfillan, Breadalbane. There is a village in Perthshire of the name of St. Fillan.

FILLANS, JAMES, an eminent sculptor, was born about 1808 at Wilsontown, Lanarkshire, but his parents having removed to Paisley when he was very young, he received his education in the latter place. He owed his eminence to his own genius and indomitable perseverance. In early life he evinced a natural talent for drawing and modelling, and to acquire a knowledge of carving, he became apprentice to a stone mason, and served a regular time at Paisley, employing his leisure hours in his favourite pursuit. During his career as a mason, we believe, he was engaged in carving the ornamental capitals of the columns of the Royal Exchange, Glasgow. After serving his apprenticeship, Mr. Fillans for a short period devoted his time to the modelling of small groups for a publisher in Paisley. These were much admired, and brought the youthful artist before the public. His earliest efforts at original busts were those of William Motherwell the poet, Sheriff Campbell of Paisley, &c. These exertions procured for Mr. Fillans, at that time, the patronage of several influential gentlemen in the West of Scotland.

      In 1836 he visited the Continent, and improved himself by travel and the study of works of art. He then settled in London, and in the first exhibition of the works of living artists in the Royal Academy at Trafalgar Square, London, he had no fewer than seven marble busts, among which was that of Allan Cunningham, which was much admired and commended by the most eminent artist of the day, Sir Francis Chantrey, who availed himself of the first opportunity that presented itself to advance the fortunes of the young and promising Scotch sculptor. Being applied to by the friends of the late Archibald Oswald, Esq. of Auchencruive, Ayrshire, for a bust of that gentleman, at a time when his own commissions were so numerous that he could not undertake the work, he at once recommended Mr. Fillans, who undertook the commission, and executed it at Vienna in the course of the same year. He afterwards received another commission for a cabinet statue of Mr. Oswald. Numerous copies of both works in marble were afterwards produced to order. Having received extensive commissions in Scotland, Mr. Fillans was induced, in the spring of 1852, to remove his studio to Glasgow, from the vicinity of Portman Square, London, where for many years it had formed a centre of attraction to the admirers of art.

      Among the most prominent of his works are the Birth of Burns, in also relievo; a life-sized group, Blind Girls reading the Scriptures; life-sized group in marble, Madonna and Child; life-sized figure, Grief, or Rachel weeping for her children; the full-length statue of Sir James Shaw at Kilmarnock; the bust of Professor Wilson (Christopher North); busts of Allan Cunningham, Motherwell, and William Kennedy, Esq., author of Fitful Fancies, &c.; posthumous busts of James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns; statuette in bronze of the racehorse Flying Dutchman, the property of the earl of Eglinton; Bas Reliefs, illustrative of catching the wild horse in the Texan Prairies, &c. &c. In the portrait department of his art, Mr. Fillans stood on a position of the highest excellence. He was possessed of a highly poetic mind, and his imaginative groups evinced great originality in conception, and freedom in the mode of treatment. His execution was remarkable for its anatomical accuracy, delicacy, softness of touch, and careful finish.

      Besides his eminence as a sculptor, Mr. Fillans had attained great proficiency as a painter, and received and executed commissions in that department of art. His oil paintings are truthful to nature, and are possessed of great breadth of effect in light and shade.

      He was most obliging in his manners, modest and unassuming in his deportment, and possessed extensive information on almost all subjects connected with literature, science, and art. Mr. Fillans died on 27th September 1852, after a short illness, of rheumatic fever. He left behind him a widow and eight young children, seven of whom were boys, to lament his untimely death.

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