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Searching for a Bargain Raeburn 2006-03-05

Posted by clype in Humanities, Money, Scotland.
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He may be Scotland’s greatest portrait painter but his works can still be bought at bargain prices on the art market.

Sir Henry Raeburn turns 250 today (2006-03-04), and his memory will be celebrated this year with academic conferences, exhibitions and a new “Raeburn trail” in Edinburgh. Major galleries have added outstanding works by Raeburn — who painted over 1 000 portraits — to their collections in recent years, with prices breaking the 1 million GBP mark. But other paintings by the prolific artist are still being snapped up at rock-bottom prices. One work sold for just 9 000 GBP last year at an Edinburgh auction. After careful cleaning, ‘The portrait of Jean Gray’ now hangs in the home of the merchant banker Sir Angus Grossart.

‘It’s been up and down like a yo-yo, his market,’ said Mr.Duncan Thomson, the Raeburn expert and former keeper of ‘The National Portrait Gallery’.

Mr.Raeburn, who was born on 1756-03-04 and lived to 1823, is credited as the artist who captured the spirit of The Scottish Enlightment. After he went bankrupt in 1808, he began churning out paintings with the help of assistants in his Edinburgh studio, and experts say his prolific output is still affecting the prices that are paid today for his works. Later this year, an exhibition, ‘Sir Henry Raeburn and his Printmakers’, will open at ‘The Talbot Rice Gallery’ in Edinburgh. ‘The Raeburn Room’ at ‘The National Portrait Gallery’ in Edinburgh has been revamped, with extra portraits and displays. In May, the galleries will inaugurate a self-guided Raeburn trail through Edinburgh. It ranges from Stockbridge, where Raeburn was a key developer and named Ann Street for his wife, to the artist’s studio in York Place, now an advertising agency’s offices. It includes ‘The National Portrait Gallery’, ‘The George Heriot School’, and ‘St.Gile’s Kirk’. The market for Raeburn’s work reached a peak in the early 20th century. Works were sold heavily to wealthy American buyers, and many remain in the top US American collections. Mr.Thomson said:

‘Raeburn prices vary tremendously because there’s a tremendous difference in quality.’

But other art experts point out that some of his works are very much undervalued. Mr.Patrick Bourne, managing director of ‘The Fine Art Society’ in London, recently bought a Raeburn portrait – of John Home — in the USA for 50 000 USD. In beautiful condition, it had been on loan to ‘The Boston Museum of Fine Arts’.

‘They are dramatically undervalued, if you look at what people pay for 20th-century works,’ he said. ‘But it is an old-fashioned taste. ‘There has always been a tremendous prejudice against portraits because a lot of people don’t see them as works of art, they see them as records.’

Mr.Bourne said that while a full-length portrait by Raeburn might reach 500 000 GBP, a head-and-shoulders painting of a ‘dull cleric’ might sell for less than 10 000 GBP.

Rev Bob Walker by Raeburn?

Mr.Stephen Lloyd, senior curator at ‘The Scottish National Portrait Gallery’, has argued that Raeburn’s iconic work, ‘The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch’, is actually by a French painter. But Raeburn’s modern reputation is growing as major galleries acquire his work, he said.

‘The fact that these paintings have gone to the greatest institutions shows that at his very best he is one of the best artists of that period in Europe.’

The Archers
‘The National Gallery’ in London acquired its first Raeburn in 2001. ‘The Archers’, a stunning double portrait of brothers Robert and Ronald Ferguson, was accepted in lieu of tax in a deal putting its value at 1.4 million GBP. The highest recent price paid at auction was the 300 000 USD paid for a portrait at Sotheby’s New York in 1995. But last year, prices for Raeburns at auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s ranged from the 42 000 GBP paid for a ‘portrait of Mr.Alexander Mackenzie’ to a ‘portrait of Robert Barclay’ that fetched as little as 6 600 GBP.

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