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Henry Raeburn

Portrait of Mrs. O'Beirne


Henry Raeburn
Stockbridge, Scotland, 1756 – Edinburgh 1823


Portrait of Mrs. O'Beirne


About 1812


Oil on canvas


90.2 x 69.8 cm


Gift of James Ross, inv. 1909.147


Western Art

Raeburn is the greatest Scottish portrait painter of the Romantic era. Orphaned when he was very young, he was trained at the age of fifteen to be a goldsmith, but also took to executing miniature portraits. His success in the latter discipline led to his advance into portraiture on canvas. Self-taught, he trained himself through making copies. The artist married well which provided him with the means to travel to London, where he was advised by Reynolds, and to Italy, where he met the Italian painter Batoni. In 1787, he returned to Edinburgh, where he remained almost exclusively. His portraits testify to an assuredness of execution. He achieved great popularity and a prosperous clientele, painting the leading literary, intellectual and social figures of Scottish society at a flourishing time. Stylistically, his focused method of working with the subject directly before him and his own natural inclinations resulted in a forceful, direct and reliable likeness. A proto-Romantic sensibility informs his best portraits, which can employ stark lighting combined with a fluid and rough brushwork, powerfully animating his sometimes dour subjects.

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