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Cast your eye upon great portraits

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By Fiona Reid
Cast your eye upon great portraits

PORTRAITS by Sir Henry Raeburn are the focus of a new exhibition for the summer at Kirkcudbright Galleries

‘Eye to Eye: Sir Henry Raeburn’s Portraits’ is now open and attracting much interest.

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), is widely recognised as Scotland’s foremost and finest portrait painter, and was prolific in the Golden Age of British portraiture, alongside Allan Ramsay, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Lawrence.

Living in Edinburgh all his life, 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”, which has taken 18 months of careful planning and preparation to bring together.

It contains 40 works 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 was best directed at portraits of men. In fact, his women and children, always more private works, are full of allure and great charm.

Curator Amanda Herries pointed out that the artist’s “extraordinarily characterful works” are reflective of today’s ubiquitous selfie, noting that his portraits define an era – directly comparable to 21st century obsessions with image.

She added: “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 is also available, via email to [email protected].

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

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