ART / Curator's Choice: Andrew Wilton on Henry Raeburn's Sir John Sinclair

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The Independent Culture
THE SWAGGER portrait tries to define the many ways in which British artists came to terms with an essentially foreign, Catholic notion of portraiture. Glamour mattered hugely to van Dyck, Winterhalter and Sargent; probity and honest worth were what the Protestant British wanted. In Scotland, though, the Catholic-Protestant divide remained a reality. Raeburn made his livelihood portraying landowners in a direct, unpretentious way. But with the flamboyant Highland chieftains he put his wonderfully broad style to more dramatic use. Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, Caithness, is an archetypal eccentric. Against a broken landscape, brushed with Raeburn's characteristic brio, he looks out at us from a hectic countenance, eyes asquint with quizzical hauteur. The arm akimbo, the foot planted forward, make for a slightly impatient monumentality. Sinclair wants to be getting on with his innumerable reforms and improvements and his great Statistical Survey of England. Some were impressed, but Pitt opined that he would rather have Sinclair's support than his advice, and told him to go home and raise a regiment. He is shown here as their Colonel.

Andrew Wilton is Keeper, Tate Gallery British Collection. The Swagger portrait is at the Tate Gallery to 10 Jan.

(Photograph omitted)