A lost portrait of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth – thought to be the only one taken from life left in private hands – is to go on loan for display in the poet’s final home in Dumfries.
But the owner, who wishes to remain
anonymous and who bought the work a couple of years ago at an
English provincial auction house where it had not been recognised,
says the clock is ticking.
He wants the painting - valued at £2m
- to go to the museum permanently, but says the loan agreement
stipulates that if a serious buyer comes forward the work must be
released for sale.
He hopes that before that happens,
heritage funding bodies will join forces with private benefactors
to raise the money.
Tax breaks that would arise in the
event of such a deal are likely to mean that the museum would be
able to acquire the work at a lower price.
The picture, dating to the first
decade of the 19th century, is thought to be the fourth version of
a portrait painted by Nasmyth after meeting Burns in the late 18th
century. The same as other versions in Scottish public collections,
it is shown here in its original frame and under its original
It has been the subject of recent
extensive tests and research by a number of experts on Nasmyth and
Burns. Crucially, X-rays taken last year show that the preparatory
work beneath the finished paint is typical of Nasmyth, says Dr
David Mackie, an 18th century paintings expert from Cambridge
University and the leading authority on fellow Scots painter Sir
Henry Raeburn. Dr Mackie has endorsed the attribution.
Dubbed the Shaw Burns, the portrait
was unveiled on January 25 (Burns Night) at the University of
Glasgow's Centre for Robert Burns Studies Conference, where writer
Jerry Brannigan revealed the results of his research into its
The evidence points to it having once
been owned by Sir James Shaw, Lord Mayor of London in 1805. He was
originally from Kilmarnock and was a major benefactor of Burns and
his widow, says Mr Brannigan.
The portrait is thought to have been
commissioned by Burns' publisher William Creech with the intention
of using it for the frontispiece of the New Edinburgh edition of
Burns' work Poems Chiefly in a Scottish
Mr Brannigan believes that the
painting was probably sold off along with the rest of Sir James's
collection in the 1830s to settle debts.
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.