The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has a new acquisition that proudly goes on display today...a small "lost" portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788) painted by the most accomplished Scottish portrait painter of the day, Allan Ramsay (1713-1784).
This work is significant for many reasons, but one of the most important is its historical context. This portrait is thought to have been created at Holyrood in Edinburgh during a short stay by Bonnie Prince Charlie at the height of the Jacobite uprising in 1745.
With its classic image of the prince depicted in half portrait, turning to look at the viewer and wearing powdered wig, velvet ermine-trimmed robe and the blue riband and star of the Order of The Garter, this is Charlie as he wanted to be seen to all his supporters. The portrait itself was used as the basis for many painted and engraved versions promoting the Jacobite cause; a classic example of portraiture being used as propaganda.
The small size of this portrait would have made it perfect for print reproduction of the day. Given the political repercussions on Jacobite supporters after the ill-fated uprising was crushed, this small portrait would also have been easy to hide from general public view and only shown to faithful supporters of the cause.
This painting has since the 18th century formed part of a collection outside Edinburgh, as part of the Wemyss Heirlooms Trust. Its current acquisition by the gallery has been as part of the AIL system (Acceptance in Lieu) which allows those with an inheritance tax bill to gift significant items of interest where applicable to the nation in lieu of tax, at full market value.
Article by Tom King & Lisa Sibbald