The Tweedales: Power, Politics and Portraits National Portrait Gallery Edinburgh Tuesday 21st April


The Tweeddales: Power, Politics and Portraits is the title of a new exhibition at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery exploring how the wealthy and influential Scottish Tweeddale family used arts patronage, collecting and portraiture to portray their status and power.

At the centre of this exhibition is a family group portrait commissioned by John Hay, 1st Marquess Tweeddale (1626–1697) and painted in oil on canvas by Flemish artist Sir John Baptiste de Medina (1659-1710).  What makes this work slightly different is that the group represents members of the family – children, daughters-in-laws and grandchildren  whose ages do not correspond to the date of the painting.  Up in the top left corner of the painting, two cherubs represent children who died in infancy. This trick in time is accomplished by the fact that this is a montage of sitters where the head and shoulder portraits are taken from existing paintings.  The result is an at times unusual looking piece of work as there is no visual perspective as  you would expect from a usual crowd scene.  Many of the faces also seem to have very similar eyes and smiles.  Of course, centre painting looking almost like Roman or Greeks of old  (with wig and hairstyle of their time though) are the Marquess and his wife Lady Jean.  This is almost a 17th century Photoshop picture.

Other interesting items in this exhibition are paintings depicting the family mansion Yester House and its lavish gardens.  More than anything, these paintings give an insight into the immense wealth and power of the family.  The house and the gardens were statements enough of their wealth, but still necessary was your carefully selected public image in art itself...PR and marketing before the phrase had even been thought of.

Two of the more interesting paintings to me though are by the painter  Gerard Soest  (probably Dutch) of John Hay 2nd Marquess Tweeddale and Lady Margaret Hay Countess of Roxburgh.  Interesting to me because Lady Margaret Hay was nearly 100 years old when she died (1657 -1753).  One can only imagine the power and influence that such a long life would have brought at this time.

This is an interesting exhibition giving an insight into a family who had all the wealth anyone could imagine owning, but still that was not enough, still there was that need to project that wealth, power and status through art to others.

Article by Tom King

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