One of the earliest known portraits of a black person by a Scottish artist has been acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Milkmaid with Butter Churn by David Allan depicts a black woman in a blue working dress standing alone on a street in the Scottish capital.
The watercolour, thought to date from the mid 1780s to the early 1790s, was painted during a time when black people often appeared as marginal or subservient figures in group portraits.
While her name and life story are unknown, it is likely she was a servant or milkmaid as suggested by the large butter churn shown beside her in the painting.
Allan, who hailed from Alloa, was arguably the first Scottish artist to take contemporary life and customs from across the social hierarchy as a subject worthy of art.
He created a number of drawings of ordinary people going about their daily lives in the city, with the works known as ‘Edinburgh Characters’.
The sketches portrayed soldiers, coalmen, fishwives, firemen and officers of the city guard.
It is hoped that further research into the portrait of the woman may reveal more about the connection between the artist and the milkmaid and shed some light on her identity.
Christopher Baker, director of European and Scottish art at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We are so pleased to bring this remarkable, rare and extraordinary watercolour into Scotland’s national collection.
“It is an incredibly striking and special work, one which we believe will be enjoyed by many and, we hope, lead to new research on its background and most importantly the story of the woman depicted.”
The painting will go on display at a later date at the gallery following some conservation work which is currently being prepared.