The silhouetted figure in The Revd Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, as painted by Henry Raeburn sometime in the 1790s, has long had an ambassadorial role for the National Galleries of Scotland. His appearance on everything from carrier bags to key fobs has made Raeburn's painting one of the most famous images in the history of Scottish art.
It deserves to be, and not just for its marketing potential: the combination of subtle tones and almost abstract patterning with the finely painted details of cravat and boot and, best of all, the marks in the ice, incised into the paint with a miniaturist's precision, make it, to my mind, one of the greatest of all Scottish paintings.
It is not, though, a particularly Raeburnish picture. More typical are his larger, more formal portraits painted with strong, easy strokes; vigorous sweeps of paint capturing the reality of the sitter through the energy of his brush rather than by a slavish attention to detail.
This summer's exhibition organised by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery at the Royal Scottish Academy is the first major show of Raeburn's work in over 40 years and a welcome reminder that he was one of Britain's finest-ever portraitists, every bit the equal of his colleagues in the South. His are the pictures which best describe the spirit of the Enlightenment in Edinburgh at the end of the 18th century, from the soft elegance of a subject like Mrs James Gregory to the lofty grandeur of a MacNab of MacNab or MacDonell of Glengarry.
See them in Edinburgh if you can - the city where they belong - but otherwise don't miss their tour to London's National Portrait Gallery from 24 October.
EYE ON THE NEW
Kettle's Yard in Cambridge celebrates its 40th birthday with Within These Walls, an exhibition exploring the notion of interior space. Well- knowns Patrick Caulfield and Richard Hamilton are joined by a number of interesting lesser lights like Kate Belton and Ewan Gibbs. From today at Kettle's Yard, Castle Street, Cambridge (01223 352124)Reuse content