‘Eye to Eye: Sir Henry Raeburn’s Portraits’ Opens at Kirkcudbright Galleries

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), widely recognised as Scotland’s foremost and finest portrait painter, takes his place in the pantheon of the best in a Golden Age of British portraiture; Allan Ramsay, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Lawrence.

Living in Edinburgh all his life, in his most prolific years from c.1790 to his death, Raeburn painted over 1000 known portraits. These record a remarkable range of society at a time when Scotland flourished as a crucible of thought and science and was made hugely wealthy through transatlantic trade. Sitters, from society’s traditional great and good to the aspiring, upwardly mobile middle classes, flocked to him for the ultimate status symbol – their portrait.

Dumfries and Galloway Council has partnered with Kirkcudbright 2000 Ltd to present this exquisite exhibition that has come to fruition after 18 months of careful planning and preparation. Containing some 40 works, the exhibition has drawn from public and private UK collections – with many portraits never seen in public before. ‘Eye to Eye’ challenges the general opinion that Raeburn’s genius – and he never made sketches – was best directed at portraits of men. His women and children, always more private works, are full of allure and great charm.

But there is more. What do Raeburn’s extraordinarily characterful works have to do with today’s ubiquitous selfie? His portraits define an era – directly comparable to 21st century obsessions with image. This comparison is illustrated in the exhibition.

Curator, Amanda Herries, says: “Raeburn’s portraits are extraordinarily well-observed records of Scottish society. We could see these faces in the street any time. Elegant and flattering, yes, and the same preoccupation with image that we see everywhere today. The difference is simply that Raeburn’s sitters had only once chance to have their ‘essence’ captured and reflected, unlike the selfie generation.”

A book accompanying the exhibition, ‘Sir Henry Raeburn; the mirror of Scotland’ by Amanda Herries, priced at £12.00, will be available from 29 June. Enquiries for the book to [email protected].

This exhibition has been supported by: Friends of Kirkcudbright Galleries, The Whisky Shop, The Holywood Trust, Foyle Foundation, Robin Rigg Offshore Wind.