Henry Raeburn, Scottish, 1756-1823
Title: Portrait of Sir John and Lady Clerk of Penicuik
Date: 1791
Medium: Oil on canvas
145 x 206 cm
Credit Line: Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Object Number: NGI.4530
DescriptionSir John Clerk (c.1740–1798), 5th Baronet, was descended from a rich merchant who had built Penicuik House, near Edinburgh. He followed intellectual pursuits typical of the Scottish Enlightenment, and married Rosemary Dacre from Cumberland in 1777. Their tender relationship is amply conveyed in this double portrait, judged to be one of Raeburn’s finest paintings. While the device of couples promenading before an imaginary landscape had been used earlier by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Romney, the setting here is closely based on the couple’s own estate, with the scrubby landscape of the Pentland hills. The two figures are fully integrated with it through gesture and back-lighting. Sunlight is the key factor as it catches the winding river, the tree, Sir John’s coat and his wife’s cheek. It is reflected back from her muslin dress to him, underlining the bond between them.
Raeburn had spent two years studying in Rome. On opening his first studio in 1786 he strove to recapture the relaxed mood and intense light of Italy in a series of full-size portraits set in landscape, in contrast to his use of strong reds in more familiar later paintings.

March 2016
ProvenanceCommissioned by Sir John and Lady Clerck of Penicuik House, Midlothian; by descent to Sir George Douglas Clerck; purchased by Sir Otto Beit, Bt. by 1911; by descent in 1930 to his son, Sir Alfred Beit, Bt.; presented Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Exhibition HistoryShakespeare Gallery, London, 1792

Raeburn, Edinburgh, 1850

Raeburn, 1876

Raeburn, Edinburgh, 1908

Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1910

Tentoonstelling van Engelsche Kunst, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1936

British Painting, Paris, 1938

Exhibition of Scottish Painting, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1939

Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, National Gallery of South Africa, Cape town, 1949-1950

Raeburn Bicentenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1956

British Painting 1710-1960, British Council, Moscow, 1960

Scottish Painting from the Early 17th Century to the Early 20th Century, Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, 1961

Romantic Art in Britain 1760-1860, Institute of Arts, Detroit; Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1968

Bicentenary Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1968-1969

British Romantic Painting, Grand Palais, Paris, 1972

Painting in Scotland: The Golden Age, Talbot Rice Art Centre, Edinburgh University; The Tate Gallery, London, 1987

Henry Raeburn 1756-1823, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1 August - 5 October 1997; National Portrait Gallery, London, 24 October 1997 - 1 February 1998

Citizens and Kings, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2 October 2006 - 8 January 2007
Label TextRaeburn captures a sense of intimacy and tenderness in this double portrait, regarded by many as his finest. John Clerk gestures towards their estate at Penicuik, near Edinburgh. His wife Rosemary rests her arm on his shoulder and the soft sunlight from behind, which lights up their faces, gives an added unity to the composition. Raeburn, who had studied in Rome, endeavoured to recapture the effects of Italian sunlight by installing special screens in his Edinburgh studio. The painting was to be his first exhibit at the Royal Academy in London, but it arrived too late and was shown instead at Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.