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Sir Henry Raeburn (4 March 1756 – 8 July 1823) was a Scottish portrait painter.


He was born the son of a manufacturer in Stockbridge, a former village now within the city of Edinburgh. Orphaned, he was supported by his older brother and placed in Heriot's Hospital, where he received an education. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to a goldsmith, 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. The goldsmith watched the progress of his pupil with interest, and introduced him to David Martin, who had been the favourite assistant of Allan Ramsay the Latter, and was now the leading portrait painter in Edinburgh. Raeburn was especially aided by the loan of portraits to copy. Soon he had gained sufficient skill to make him decide to devote himself exclusively to painting.

In his early twenties, he was asked to paint the portrait of a young lady whom he had previously observed and admired when he was sketching from nature in the fields. Anne was the daughter of Peter Edgar of Bridgelands, and widow of Count Leslie. 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. It was usual for artists to visit Italy, and Raeburn set off with his wife. In London he was kindly received by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who advised him on what to study in Rome, especially recommending the works of Michelangelo. Raeburn carried with him to Italy many valuable introductions from the president of the Royal Academy. In Rome he met Gavin Hamilton, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni and Byers, an antique dealer whose advice proved particularly useful, especially the recommendation that "he should never copy an object from memory, but, from the principal figure to the minutest accessory, have it placed before him." 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.
Raeburn's portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1822)

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, the bust of Dr Wardrop of Torbane Hill, the 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, the smaller likeness of Mrs R. Scott Moncrieff in the National Gallery of Scotland, and that of Mrs Robert Bell, and others, argue against this. Raeburn spent his life in Edinburgh, rarely visiting London, and then only for brief periods, thus preserving his individuality. Although he, personally, may have lost advantages resulting from closer association with the leaders of English art, and from contact with a wider public, Scottish art gained much from his disinclination to leave his native land. He became the acknowledged chief of the school which was growing up in Scotland during the earlier years of the 19th century, and his example and influence at a critical period were of major importance. So varied were his other interests that sitters used to say of him, "You would never take him for a painter till he seizes the brush and palette."
The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, better known as The Skating Minister (1790s)

In 1812 he was elected president of the Society of Artists in Edinburgh, in 1814 associate, and in the following year full member of the Royal Scottish Academy. On 29 August 1822 he was knighted by George IV and appointed His Majesty's limner for Scotland at the Earl of Hopetoun house.[1] He died at Edinburgh.

Raeburn had all the essential qualities of a popular and successful portrait painter. He was able to produce a telling and forcible likeness; his work is distinguished by powerful characterisation, stark realism, dramatic and unusual lighting effects, and swift and broad handling of the most resolute sort. David Wilkie recorded that, while travelling in Spain and studying the works of Diego Velázquez, the brushwork reminded him constantly of the "square touch" of Raeburn.

Raeburn was unusual amongst many of his contemporaries, such as Reynolds, in the extent of his philosophy of painting everything directly from life. This attitude partly explains the often coarse modelling and clashing colour combinations he employed, in contrast to the more refined style of Thomas Gainsborough and Reynolds. However these qualities and those mentioned above anticipate many of the later developments in painting of the nineteenth century from romanticism to Impressionism.

Sir Henry Raeburn died in St Bernard's House, Stockbridge, Edinburgh. His memorial is in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Edinburgh.

People painted by Raeburn include the following:

    * Sir George Abercromby, 4th Baronet
    * Dr Alexander Adam
    * Robert Adam
    * Mrs Robert Adam
    * Archibald Alison
    * Alexander Allan
    * David Anderson
    * Sir David Baird
    * Mrs Henry Balfour (Jane Elliot) [2]
    * Lady Belhaven
    * Mrs George Bell
    * Mrs E Bethune [3]
    * The Binning children
    * Hugh Blair
    * Mrs Irvine J Boswell [4]
    * Helen Boyle
    * Andrew Buchanon
    * John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute[5]
    * John Campbell of John Campbell Snr & Co.
    * Colonel Alexander Campbell of Possil
    * Mrs Alexander Campbell of Possil
    * Sir Duncan Campbell, Scots Guards
    * Master John Campbell of Saddell
    * Rev. Alexander Carlyle
    * Alexander Carre of Cavers
    * Master Cathcart
    * Charles Christie
    * Miss Jean Christie
    * John Clerk, Lord Eldin
    * Jacobina Copland
    * James Cruikshank
    * Mrs James Cruikshank
    * John Cuninghame of Craigends
    * Mrs Alexander Dirom, (Anne Fotheringham) [6]
    * Lady Harriet Don, with her son
    * Elizabeth Douglas of Brigton (née Graham)
    * The Drummond children [7]
    * George Duff [8]
    * James Duff, 4th Earl Fife
    * Norwich Duff [9]
    * Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville
    * Lady Elibank
    * William Fairlie
    * Archibald Farquharson of Finzean
    * Robert Fergusson and his brother Lieutenant-General Sir Ronald Fergusson, "The Archers" (Royal Company of Archers)
    * William Forbes of Callendar (1756–1823), coppersmith and landowner
    * Mrs Gevine
    * Eleanor Margaret Gibson-Carmichael
    * Karl Ludwig Giesecke
    * William Glendonwyn [10]
    * Mrs Glendowyn and her daughter Mary
    * Niel Gow
    * John Gray of Carntyne
    * Mrs Elizabeth Hamilton (1757–1816), writer and educationalist
    * Major James Lee Harvey, Gordon Highlanders [11][12]
    * Thomas Robert Hay, 11th Earl of Kinnoull
    * Captain Hay of Spot
    * Mrs Andrew Hay (Elizabeth Robinson)
    * Mrs Alexander Henderson
    * Principal Hill of St Andrews
    * Mrs George Hill
    * John Home
    * The Rt Hon Charles Hope
    * Hugh Hope
    * Francis Horner, political economist
    * Dr James Hutton, geologist
    * Sir Patrick Inglis, 5th Baronet of Sunnyside
    * Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey
    * John Johnstone, Betty Johnstone and Miss Wedderburn
    * Mrs Johnston of Straiton
    * Mrs Johnstone of Baldovie
    * Dr Colin Lauder (1750–1831), FRCS, & Burgess of Edinburgh
    * Zepherina Loughnan, Mrs Henry Veitch of Eliock
    * William Macdonald of St Martin's
    * Colonel Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry (1771–1828)
    * General Hay MacDowell
    * Mrs George Mackay of Bighouse (Louisa Campbell)
    * Henry Mackenzie
    * Robert Macqueen, Lord Braxfield (1722–1799), Lord Justice-Clerk 1798
    * George Malcolm
    * Mrs Malcolm
    * Captain Patrick Miller
    * Alexander Monro
    * Sir James Montgomery, 2nd Baronet of Stanhope [4]
    * Thomas Mure of Warriston
    * Sir William Napier, Baronet
    * Lord Newton
    * Rev. Principal Nicoll, D.D.
    * Mrs George Paterson of Huntly Castle
    * The Patterson children
    * John Playfair
    * Henry Raeburn
    * Lady Raeburn
    * Miss Davidson Reid
    * John Rennie the Elder, engineer
    * Professor William Richardson[13]
    * William Robertson
    * Adam Rolland of Gask
    * Daniel Rutherford
    * Colonel Francis James Scott
    * Sir Walter Scott, 1st Bt
    * Alexander Shaw
    * Mrs Simpson
    * Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet
    * Andrew Spottiswoode [14]
    * Dugald Stewart
    * Mrs Anne Stewart
    * John, Lord Swinton
    * John Tait and his grandson
    * John Tait of Harvieston
    * Rev John Thomson (1778–1840) of Duddingston
    * Eliza Tod of Drygrange (née Pringle)
    * Lady Anne Torphicen
    * Captain Willian Tytler
    * Miss Eleanor Urquhart
    * Rev Robert Walker (1755–1808) Skating on Duddingston Loch
    * Dr Wardrop of Torbane Hill
    * Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood
    * Hugh William Williams
    * Lord Woodhouselee


   1. ^ Andrew Kippis, William Godwin, The New annual register, or General repository of history, politics, arts, sciences and literature for year 1822, London, 1823, p.166
   2. ^ The Balfours of Pilrig
   3. ^ "Hermitage Museum".
   4. ^ a b "Detroit Institute of Arts".
   5. ^ Portrait at Mount Stuart
   6. ^ Dirom genealogy
   7. ^ "Metropolitan Museum of Art".
   8. ^ Naval Museum, Portsmouth
   9. ^ Duff genealogy
  10. ^ "Fitzwilliam Museum".
  11. ^ "Leicester Galleries".
  12. ^ "The Louvre".
  13. ^ Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, NZ.
  14. ^ "Art Gallery of NSW".


    * Andrew, William Raeburn. Life of Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A. (London: W.H. Allen & co., 1886).
    * Armstrong, Sir W. Sir Henry Raeburn (London, 1901.)
    * Masters in Art, volume 6 (Boston, 1905) p. 423 ff.
    * Clouston, R. S. Sir Henry Raeburn (London: G. Newnes, 1907).
    * Caw, James Lewis. Raeburn (London, T.C. and E.C. Jack, 1909) - with colour plates of his paintings.
    * Greig, James. Sir Henry Raeburn: His Life and Works (London: "The Connoisseur", 1911)
    *  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Sir Henry Raeburn". Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.
    * Wikisource-logo.svgThis article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Raeburn, Sir Henry". Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900​. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
    * This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.

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