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Scottish Artists

A collection of works by Scottish Artists collected by British monarchs from George III to the present day.

JOHN PETTIE (1834-93)

Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse

before 30 Apr 1892

Oil on canvas | 158.8 x 114.3 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 401247

The Prince, emerging from the shadows, enters the brilliant light of the Ballroom at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. He is wearing Prince Charles Edward Stuart tartan, the riband and star of the Order of the Garter; the wooden floor before him strewn with silk favours. The identification of his companions in the shadows, has proved problematic: they are possibly Cameron of Lochiel (c. 1700-1748), and Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762). Both were loyal chiefs, who joined the Prince’s uprising in 1745 but lived out their lives in exile and in hiding after the defeat of the Prince’s forces at the Battle of Culloden.


Like many of Pettie’s historical themes, the painting depicts an incident that has a basis in fact but is embellished for pictorial effect. Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88) led the attempt to claim the throne of Great Britain for his father, James Francis Edward, the son of James VII and II. In September 1745 he seized Edinburgh and set up court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Here he conducted his official business. He left Edinburgh with his troops at the end of October 1745, heading for London. The ball, however, was a literary creation, described by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Waverley, and Pettie seems to depict the moment when the Prince pauses on the threshold of the ballroom, ‘dazzled at the liveliness and elegance of the scene now exhibited in the long-deserted halls of the Scottish palace’.


Apparently no full length portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart existed so John Pettie asked his son-in-law, the composer Hamish McCunn (1868-1916) to model for the figure of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892, but remained unsold, becoming part of the sale of the artist’s studio the following year. It passed initially into the R. Wharton Private Collection and was then acquired by Charles Stewart of Achara, who presented it to King George V in 1916.


A copy of the painting by Bruce Thomson (1885-1976) is in the Caledonian Club. This is one of three copies by Thomson of the original permitted by King George VI.

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