WHEN renowned artist Sir Henry Raeburn started work on a portrait of Scotland’s premier peer, he could not have known he was never going to get paid for the work.
But nearly 200 years later, its current owner – one of Britain’s richest men – is finally set to cash in as he is expected to make between £40,000 and £60,000 from the sale of the painting at auction later this month.
It is up for sale as part of an extraordinary collection expected to make £5 million – with the Raeburn picture of the tenth Duke of Hamilton among the highlights.
The duke was no stranger to controversy – a Scottish politician and art collector, he is thought to be the only Scottish duke to be mummified.
Raeburn began the massive 8ft by 6ft oil painting of the Duke of Hamilton, Hereditary Keeper of Holyrood Palace, in or around 1812.
In the same year the duke’s Edinburgh law agent, Alexander Young, asked Raeburn about the progress he was making on the picture.
According to auctioneers Christie’s: “Clearly at some point after this, the duke did present himself in Raeburn’s studio for completion of the portrait.”
But when Raeburn died 11 years later, the completed picture was still languishing in his studio in York Place – because the duke had not paid the bill.
Papers found after the artist’s death included an inventory of debts owed by sitters, which had been updated with a tell-tale note reading: “Still outstanding, 9th June 1824, Duke of Hamilton, £315.”
Not long after Raeburn’s death the Duke of Hamilton did eventually acquire the picture. Now the portrait has been put up for sale by Viscount Cowdray, 67, believed to be Britain’s 66th richest man.
The Hamilton picture is among 1200 family treasures – including paintings, silver, furniture and porcelain – from Lord Cowdray’s home, Cowdray Park, at Midhurst, Sussex, and from Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire, home of Lord Cowdray’s younger brother, Charles Pearson, 55, who owns more than 53,000 acres of Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire.
Sir Henry Raeburn was born in Stockbridge, on March 4, 1756, and went on to become one of Scotland’s greatest portrait painters.
His list of sitters – including Sir Walter Scott – reads like a Who’s Who of Scotland, and one of his most famous paintings, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating On Duddingston Loch – better known as The Skating Minister – can be seen at the National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound.