Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

X-rays suggest Skating Minister 'not by Raeburn'

The Skating Minister
Image caption The painting is thought to depict Rev Robert Walker on Duddingston loch

Scientific research has suggested The Skating Minister was not painted by Sir Henry Raeburn.

Two Edinburgh academics said X-ray evidence pointed to it being the work of Henri-Pierre Danloux.

The X-rays failed to show lead-white paint in the face, making it inconsistent with Raeburn's other work.

The painting is thought to depict Rev Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk, ice skating on Duddingston loch.

Dr Stephen Lloyd, an art historian, and Dr Viccy Coltman from Edinburgh University's history of art department, said their analysis settled a long-running debate over the provenance of the painting.

Dr Lloyd told BBC Scotland his doubts about the painting were shared by many people he worked with while at the National Galleries of Scotland.

He said: "There were many curators over the years who had felt that there were doubts about the style of painting, the style of canvas, the way that the painting cracked, and just the appearance of the small figure - so balletic, so enigmatic - really quite unlike Raeburn's normal style.

"It was really the taking of the X-ray by the conservation department at the National Galleries that confirmed these suspicions."

Raeburn was known to use lead-white paint to underpaint the faces of his portrait subjects, which should have shown up clearly in the X-ray.

According to the researchers, the painting of The Skating Minister would be the only of Raeburn's 1,000 portraits which did not use this technique.

Dr Lloyd believes the real artist was Henri-Pierre Danloux, who was an emigre from revolutionary France who settled in Edinburgh in the late 18th Century, around the time the painting is thought to be from.

Dr Coltman said she did not believe attributing The Skating Minister to another artist would damage Raeburn's reputation.

She added: "It's become a cause celebre. It's been isolated from Raeburn's oeuvre, which in a way is good because it made people look again, but I don't want Raeburn's whole reputation to rest on this one canvas."

A spokesperson for the National Galleries of Scotland, where the painting is housed, said: "There has been speculation for some years about the authorship of The Skating Minister but no concrete or convincing evidence has yet emerged to undermine the traditional attribution to Sir Henry Raeburn.

"We haven't been offered an opportunity to review the latest publication on this yet but we are not aware of any new material or technical evidence that would lead us to change the view that the existing attribution is sound."

Rev Charles Robertson, one of The Skating Minister's successors at the Canongate Kirk, said: "I think it'd be a great pity if Raeburn is completely debunked, because the connection between Raeburn and The Skating Minister is hallowed almost."

Dr Coltman and Dr Lloyd's research is published in a book, Henry Raeburn: Context, Reception and Reputation.

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