Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Robert Burns!

My posting yesterday of "Boy Scores A Picture" prompted the suggestion from fellow blogger the Columnist that it reminded him of Robert Burns, the beloved Scottish Bard (1759-1797).   After doing some research, I believe the Columnist is absolutely correct, and that we are, in fact, the surprised and pleased owners of a portrait in little of the famed proto-Romantic poet.

Here's how it unfolded: I read the Columnist's comment to Boy, who ran upstairs and retrieved a small glass paperweight that he bought more than 20 years ago, showing the Robert Burns Monument in Edinburgh.  As he was doing that I did a search on the Internet of various sites.

Our portrait and a period engraving; note same hair in all three likenesses

Detail of 1787 Nasmyth portrait; Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The face in our small likeness was done after the famous portrait of Robert Burns painted by Alexander Nasmyth (Naysmith) in 1787 from life when the poet was 28 years old.  The painting hangs today in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and has been the subject of countless copies and engravings.  It is more likely that our portrait was based on an engraving of the Nasmyth painting.  The crossed-arms pose in our picture is possibly based on another portrait of Burns, also by Nasmyth, that was painted in 1828, a full 32 years after the poet's death.

1828 Nasmyth portrait; Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In the background of our painting stands the Robert Burns Monument on the Calton Hill in Edinburgh, designed by Thomas Hamilton, and built in 1831-32.  The erection of the monument was highly publicized, and its dedication was widely reported in the media at the time.  It was, and remains to this day, a popular tourist destination.

Boy's paperweight; photo by Boy Fenwick

1840 engraving by W. Mossman

The monument today; photo courtesy South Ayrshire News

Given when the monument was built, and that the supplier of the board on which our picture was painted moved to its premises at 51 Rathbone Lane in London in 1832, Boy and I are convinced that our little painting was without doubt done in the 1830s, most likely dashed off as a souvenir for a visitor to the Burns Monument or to Edinburgh.

I cannot thank the Columnist enough for pointing me in the right direction, and I am indebted to him for helping me discover that our little painting is most definitely a likeness of Robert Burns.  His most enlightening blog, the Corinthian Column, can be found at


  1. ah, this is just the sort of dedicated, and fruitful, research that I love...Great post

  2. PS...

    The random letters required to post my previous comment were happodeb...I'm familiar with subdebs, postdebs, debs from hell, but happodebs? :-)

  3. Incredible, isnt it? It is difficult to explain to those who don't even know what a blog is what an enlightening experience it can be. Every day I learn something new and exciting and all it takes is an internet connection and an inquisitive mind!

    I share in your excitement, it is a charming painting regardless of who painted it. I have a "find" that I love in a frame in the same condition as yours that I might just show to our detective blogger, the columnist. I've kept it "as is" for I think it's part of the charm.

    Just yesterday I received an email from the UK about the "21" scarves that were given to regular's wives for b'day and anniversaries. My mother mentioned them when i was writing the post and I promptly ignored her (NEVER ignore your mother). It seems there is a big following from scarf collectors. I think I know who might still have one...

    Enjoy your painting.

  4. How delightful, a great find just got the history it carried all along just awaiting discovery. Isn't it fascinating how that works- and how likely the deal is now a treasure. Good score.

  5. brilliant sleuthing! what a nice find, too

  6. That's great news! I couldn't see from the picture in yesterday's post what the building was in the background, but the monument on Calton Hill makes absolute sense, and I know it well, having climbed up there. Fantastic views of Edinburgh, (where we lived prior to Bangkok), from there too.

  7. I hope you are going to celebrate your finding by having a Burns Supper on 25 January to celebrate the Bard.

  8. Hello Scot,
    What a great idea! It's a little late to organize such a dinner, but I will be sure to hoist a glass on the 25th to honor the Bard of Ayrshire.

  9. Great detective work. I love the stripes on the vest in your painting, which indicates that the artist did not dash through the work too quickly.


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