Henry Raeburn 1756 – 1823

Henry Raeburn, was a British portrait painter and Scotland’s first significant portrait painter since the Union to remain based in Scotland. He served as Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland.

At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to the goldsmith James Gilliland of Edinburgh, and various pieces of jewellery, mourning rings and the like, adorned with minute drawings on ivory by his hand, still exist. Soon he took to the production of carefully finished portrait miniatures; meeting with success and patronage, he extended his practice to oil painting, at which he was self-taught.

In his early twenties, Raeburn was asked to paint the portrait of a young lady he had noticed when he was sketching from nature in the fields. Ann was the daughter of Peter Edgar of Bridgelands, and widow of Count James Leslie of Deanhaugh. Fascinated by the handsome and intellectual young artist, she became his wife within a month, bringing him an ample fortune. The acquisition of wealth did not affect his enthusiasm or his industry, but spurred him on to acquire a thorough knowledge of his craft.

After two years of study in Italy he returned to Edinburgh in 1787, and began a successful career as a portrait painter. In that year he executed a seated portrait of the second Lord President Dundas.

Examples of his earlier portraiture include a bust of Mrs Johnstone of Baldovie and a three-quarter-length of Dr James Hutton: works which, if somewhat timid and tentative in handling and not as confident as his later work, nevertheless have delicacy and character. The portraits of John Clerk, Lord Eldin, and of Principal Hill of St Andrews belong to a later period. Raeburn was fortunate in the time in which he practised portraiture. Sir Walter Scott, Hugh Blair, Henry Mackenzie, Lord Woodhouselee, William Robertson, John Home, Robert Fergusson, and Dugald Stewart were resident in Edinburgh, and were all painted by Raeburn.

Mature works include his own portrait and that of the Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, a bust of Dr Wardrop of Torbane Hill, two full-lengths of Adam Rolland of Gask, the remarkable paintings of Lord Newton and Dr Alexander Adam in the National Gallery of Scotland, and that of William Macdonald of St Martin’s.

It was commonly believed that Raeburn was less successful in painting female portraits, but the exquisite full-length of his wife, and that of Mrs Robert Bell, and others, argue against this.

Sir Henry Raeburn died in St Bernard’s House at 17 St Bernard’s Crescent, Stockbridge, Edinburgh. He is buried in St. Cuthbert’s churchyard against the east wall (the monument erected by Raeburn in advance) but also has a secondary memorial in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Edinburgh.

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