Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Isabella Halkett 1795c.

Sir Henry Raeburn PRSA (1756-1823)

Portrait of Isabella Halkett, Sir Henry Raeburn PRSA
Oil on canvas
19th Century
35 x 27 inches 88.9 x 68.6 cm
By descent through the sitter's family who then bequeathed it to Charles Cornelius Maconochie; Howard Young Gallery, London and New York, 1930 F S Savastano, New York Anon, sale, Sotheby''s, New York, 11 April 1984, lot 20.
Isabella Halkett was the youngest daughter of Colonel Charles Craigie Halkett of Lawhill, Fifeshire, and wife of the Rt. Hon Robert Blair (d. 1811), Solicitor General of Scotland from 1789 to 1806 and later President of the College of Justice. The style is characteristic of Raeburn's soft and sentimental style; his handling of the subject matter, the use of filtered light and employment of a bucolic setting making the work datable to the mid 1790s. Like his rosy hued depictions of Jacobina Copland, Lady Carnegie and the Countess of Dumfries and her daughter, the artist pictures his sitter in an unadorned white linen dress. Simple in colour and outline, his work is suggestive of the neo-classical, but has both breath and movement. Raeburn also painted a portrait of the sitter's husband, though it is not known whether the works were intended to form a pair.

Throughout his life Raeburn was highly praised for the clarity, drama and honesty of his portraiture. Born in Edinburgh in 1756 he was orphaned at the age of six and later apprenticed to a jeweller and goldsmith. By the 1770s he had begun to paint miniatures and later in that decade progressed to full-length portraits. It was not until his marriage to a wealthy widow, Ann Edgar in 1780 that he received any formal training. He moved to London with the backing of his wife's finances in 1784 and became a pupil of Reynolds. This was followed by a trip to Rome before the artist returned to Edinburgh to set up what became a successful practice. He exhibited at the Royal Academy fifty-three times between 1792 and 1823, and received both a knighthood and the title of His Majesty's First Limner and Painter in Scotland.
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