National Records of Scotland

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Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)

Portrait painter

Henry Raeburn's father died when he was young and he was raised by his elder brother. He was apprenticed to a goldsmith aged 15 and it was at this time he started painting watercolour miniatures of his friends. His marriage in 1778 to a wealthy widow, Ann Leslie, allowed him to concentrate on a career as an artist. Joshua Reynolds convinced him to study in Rome. He returned to Edinburgh in 1787 and spent 30 years painting influential members of Edinburgh society, including Sir Walter Scott, Adam Ferguson and David Hume. He was knighted in 1822.

Sir Henry Raeburn is one of the famous Scots commemorated in our Archivists' Garden. The entry on birch refers to his use of these trees in the background to his portraits.

Birth in 1756

Henry Raeburn (here given as Reaburn) was born on 4 March 1756, the son of Robert Reaburn, yarn boiler at Stockbridge and Ann Elder. The Old Parish Register (OPR) of births and baptisms for St Cuthbert's gives the date of baptism as Sunday 7 March 1756 and the witnesses as Thomas Spence and Robert Dixson, weavers in Edinburgh.

Birth and baptism entry for Henry Raeburn

Birth and baptism entry for Henry Raeburn (29 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-2/7, page 241

A second entry under the standard spelling of his surname can be found in the St Cuthbert’s Blotter Register which is held in the Miscellaneous Manuscript Records series. (National Records of Scotland, MR5/2)

Testament of Sir Henry Raeburn

National Records of Scotland, SC70/1/31 pp 244-247

Sir Henry Raeburn died intestate on 8 July 1823. The inventory of his estate, which was administered by his son, Henry, lists payments owed by the rich and famous for their portraits.

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