The Museum is fortunate to possess no less than seven handsome portraits by Raeburn, the greatest Scottish portrait painter of the Romantic era. Orphaned, Raeburn 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 but encouraged by David Martin, Edinburgh’s leading portrait painter, the young Raeburn trained himself through making copies. The artist married well, providing him the means to travel to London, where he was advised by Reynolds, and to Italy, where he met Batoni, among others during his two-year sojourn, and studied diligently. In 1787, he returned to Edinburgh, where he remained almost exclusively for the rest of his career. His portraits rapidly gained in assuredness of execution, and he achieved great popularity and a prosperous clientele, painting the leading literary, intellectual and social figures of Scottish society at a particularly flourishing time in the history of that land. Actively involved in promoting the arts in Scotland, he was knighted by George IV in 1822.
Stylistically, his focused method of working with the subject directly before him and his own natural inclinations resulted in forceful, direct and reliable likenesses of his clients. 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.