Two portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn, one of the greatest Scottish artists of the early nineteenth century, have entered the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which enables works of art to be presented to the nation and offset against inheritance tax.
The acceptance of these two portraits settled £631,600 of tax.
Raeburn, who was born in Edinburgh and lived from 1756 to 1823, was the leading portrait painter of his time in Scotland, and is regarded as one of the most accomplished and innovative in European art of the period.
The two portraits acquired show Raeburn at the height of his artistic powers. They depict the two eldest sons of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire, a wealthy and influential banker, art collector and patron. The paintings were commissioned in 1809–11, when the young boys were around seven years old.
The eldest son, William Stuart Forbes (1802-1826), is shown feeding a hunk of bread to his pet, apparently a Bernese Mountain dog.
The second painting shows the younger of the two brothers, John Stuart Forbes (1804-1866). Like the portrait of William, it shows its young sitter with his arm around his dog, possibly a Dalmatian Pointer cross.
The acute observation of the relationships between the boys and their dogs makes these works differ from the conventional portraits that Raeburn more usually produced, giving them much of the appeal of ‘genre’ paintings that show scenes from everyday life. As such, they have an exceptional status within the artist’s output and, indeed, in British portraiture of the period.
The National Galleries of Scotland holds a fine survey of Raeburn’s work, although only one other example of his child portraiture, a later painting of about 1822.
Speaking of the acquisition, Christopher Baker, director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, said: “Raeburn’s work has enormous appeal through its technical sophistication and the empathy with which he portrayed his subjects.
“Both these achievements are brilliantly distilled in these delightful portraits. We are very grateful indeed to the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme for making the transfer of the paintings to the nation possible. It seems especially appropriate to celebrate this, in view of the age of Raeburn’s subjects, during Scotland’s Year of Young People.”
Edward Harley, chairman of the Acceptance in Lieu panel, said: “These portraits were amongst the finest of the artist’s paintings still left in private hands. The allocation of the works to the Scottish National Gallery highlights the importance of the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme in bringing exceptional works of art into public ownership.”
Clarissa Vallat, Sotheby’s Tax & Heritage Department, added: “We’re delighted to have played a part in negotiating the placement of these wonderful paintings with the Scottish National Gallery, by an artist so beloved by the Scottish nation.”
The Acceptance in Lieu scheme enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and other heritage objects into public ownership while paying Inheritance Tax.
In this way, objects that might otherwise be sold on the open market and thus be potentially lost to the nation, remain in the public domain. AIL is a reserved matter but “executive devolution” arrangements are in place to enable Scottish Ministers to deal with cases in which there is a Scottish Interest.