Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Henry Raeburn, Double Portrait of Mrs. Alexander Allan and her granddaughter, Mathilda

Henry Raeburn, Double Portrait of Mrs. Alexander Allan with her granddaughter, Mathilda, c1815
50 x 39.5 in.

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) was a Scottish portrait painter and an important figure in the development of Scottish national arts after their union with England to form Great Britain in 1707, as he was the first major painter after the Union to remain based in Scotland.  After being orphaned, he was supported by his older brother and received an education at Heriot's Hospital. When he was fifteen he was apprenticed to a goldsmith.  Many pieces of jewelry that he made still survive, complete with minute drawings or engravings on them.  Largely self-taught, he began to produce portrait miniatures and, after some success, began in full size oil paintings.  Raeburn is mostly known for his traditional portraits, and he painted such leading figures as Sir Walter Scott (twice in fact).  He was named King George IV's official portrait painter in Scotland and was knighted by him on a visit to Edinburgh.  Raeburn's most famous painting is The Skating Minister (1790s).  This portrait of Mrs. Allan and her granddaughter is a beautiful example of Raeburn's skill.  He imbues their faces with dignity and sensitivity, and communicates the love between the two with the simple gesture of Mrs. Allan loosely holding Mathilda's hand.  Notice the rendering of the clothes, the delicacy of Mathilda's lace dress and the lush weight of Mrs. Allan's. Most importantly though, Raeburn conveys the light in their eyes, which is what makes the painting engaging and expressive.

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