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The Macdonald Children

Oil painting on canvas, The Macdonald Children: Reginald George Macdonald later 19th Chief of Clanranald and 7th Chief of Benbecula (1788-1873) with his brothers Robert Macdonald (d.1864) and Donald Macdonald (d.1837) by Sir Henry Raeburn RA (Stockbridge 1756 - Edinburgh 1823), inscribed Sir Henry Raeburn RSA pinxt (left) and also inscribed: Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald and two younger brothers (right), circa 1798-1800. The eldest, Reginald George, sits on a rock with his brother Robert, each with an arm about the other's waist, in the act of snapping their fingers over their heads; the former dressed in scarlet with white collar and stockings, the latter wearing a lemon-coloured dress, wide blue sash and white collar; the youngest boy, Donald, stands by their side, wearing scarlet and caressing a dog. The three boys in this portrait are the children of John Macdonald, 18th Chief of Clanranald (d.1793), and his wife, Katherine Macqueen. They are Reginald George (1788-1873), whose name sometimes appears as Ranald, and his younger brothers Robert (d.1863) and Donald (d.1837). Reginald and Robert sit on a rock while Donald looks up at his siblings, embracing, or perhaps restraining, a lively spaniel. Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) was the favoured portraitist of the Scottish aristocracy at the turn of the nineteenth century, so he would have been the natural choice to depict the children of this prominent Highland family. His studio was in Edinburgh.

Portraits of children playing freely and happily were fashionable in Britain in this period and here Raeburn proves himself adept at meeting this demand. He adopts a loose vigour in his brushwork that imparts a sense of spontaneity to his depiction of the boys. They have been brightly dressed in soft, practical jacket-and-trouser combinations, known as 'skeleton suits'. These allowed for unconstrained movement; the older brothers raise their arms above their heads and click their fingers. This gesture may be designed to evoke a Highland dance and by inference the culture of their homeland. Similarly, the wild setting of rocks, mountains and shaggy foliage may be a reminder of the Macdonald estates on the Small Isles, Arisaig, Moidart and South Uist. Reginald had already inherited these estates when this portrait was painted, following the death of his father in 1793.

Periods: 18th Century

Place of origin: Scotland

Credit: Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust)

c. 1798 - 1800
Oil paint on canvas
1431.0 x 1137.0mm
NT 446695
Image and text © Upton House NTPL

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Upton House and Gardens
Upton House and Gardens
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