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Sir Henry Raeburn

Henry Raeburn


Trained as a goldsmith, Raeburn’s talents led him into painting, particularly portraits; he became the foremost Scottish portrait painter of his day. His subjects included some of the richest and most powerful figures in the land, including Cockburn, Hume, Boswell, Smith, Braxfield and Scott.

More About Henry Raeburn. Everything went pretty well for Henry Raeburn, and we shouldn't begrudge him his good luck, since he was such a pleasant man. He was born in 1756 at Stockbridge in Edinburgh, where his father owned a textile mill, a pretty comfortable start. At the age of 16 Henry was apprenticed to a goldsmith, which was also fine.

Art was young Henry's passion, and he started on watercolour miniatures and then moved into oils. In his 20s Raeburn married a rich widow, Ann Leslie, so that he never had to bother much about money again. In 1784 Raeburn set off for Italy and spent a couple of years studying painting in Rome. When he came back to Edinburgh, nothing could go wrong.

All kinds of high and mighty people were glad to have Raeburn portraits. The people who queued up for Raeburn's services included David Hume, Sir Walter Scott, James Boswell, Lord Melville, Lord Cockburn and their like. None of them ever complained about the quality of his work. He was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1812; in 1815 Raeburn was added to the roll of Royal Academician. He received his knighthood in 1822, and in 1823, the year of his death, he was appointed the King's Limner and Painter for Scotland.

Raeburn's style was influenced by Reynolds's, but his use of powerful brush strokes and strong colours gave it distinctive qualities of its own. Perhaps his most famous work is The MacNab. It sold for over £25,000, in 1917. That would be a six-figure sum today, and if Raeburn were alive he would probably be quite pleased..