Rare 18th century Henry Raeburn portrait goes on display for first time

The painting, titled Patrick Moir, is thought to have been painted during his visit to Italy between 1784 and 1786.

Only known Sir Henry Raeburn Rome portrait secured for the nation at Scottish National Gallery National Galleries of Scotland

The only portrait known to have been painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 18th century Rome has been saved for the nation.

The painting, titled Patrick Moir, has been acquired by National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) and has gone on show at the National in Edinburgh in the month of the bicentenary of Raeburn’s death on July 8, 1823.

It joins the NGS collection of the artist’s work which includes the much loved “Skating Minister” painting, Reverend Robert Walker (1755‒1808) Skating On Duddingston Loch, which is also on show at the gallery on The Mound.

Patrick Moir was painted in Rome at a key moment in Raeburn’s life and career, and is the only known portrait dating from his one study visit to Italy (from 1784‒6).

It depicts the nephew of Raeburn’s most influential acquaintance in the city – James Byres of Tonley (1734–1817), a well-known dealer in antiquities and “Old Master” paintings.

NGS acquired the painting through the Private Treaty Sale scheme, which allows private owners to sell items considered to be culturally pre-eminent to national organisations without recourse to an auction process.

Helen Smailes, NGS senior curator, said: “This fascinating painting has been a cherished heirloom of the Moir-Byres family since 1785 and is a remarkable survivor of the French invasion of Italy in the 1790s.

“Raeburn’s only known portrait painted in Rome, its acquisition has transformed the galleries’ internationally important holdings of his work.

“We are delighted to have been able to save Patrick Moir for the nation in Raeburn’s bicentenary year, with the unwavering commitment of the Moir-Byres family and generous support from the Art Fund.”

The acquisition was enabled by £54,000 of support from Art Fund, together with funds from the Cowan Smith and Treaty of Union Bequests.

Raeburn (1756–1823) was considered the top Scottish portrait painter of the late 18th and early 19th century and painted more than 1,000 canvases in his lifetime, despite lacking any formal artistic training.

The painting, believed to have been commissioned by Byres, will join the NGS collection of art relating to Scots undertaking a “Grand Tour” of Italy, including works by Allan Ramsay and William Aikman.

Patrick Moir was the son of Reverend George Moir (1741–1818) of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.

In time, Patrick managed his uncle’s business and became known as the “English banker in Rome” and a supplier of funds to Cardinal York, brother of Prince Charles Edward Stewart.

The portrait remained in Rome with the rest of Byres’s art collection during the turmoil of the city’s invasion by French revolutionary troops and eventually returned to the Byres family in Aberdeenshire.

Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund, said: “This rare painting is the only known surviving full-scale portrait from Sir Henry Raeburn’s stay in Italy, a formative moment in the artist’s career.

“I’m thrilled that Art Fund has been able to support this important acquisition, where it will join the National Galleries of Scotland’s world-leading collection of Raeburn’s work for the public to enjoy for many years to come.”

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