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Robert Thorburn (1818-85)

Prince Albert (1819-1861) 1852

RCIN 404111

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Scottish artists were instrumental in the development of the portrait miniature in the nineteenth-century, bringing technical innovation and distinctly Scottish stylistic traits of freshness and naturalism to the art form. Andrew Robertson trained in Edinburgh under Alexander Nasmyth and Sir Henry Raeburn before moving to London in 1801. He challenged the very premise of miniature painting, using large-scale, rectangular ivory plaques as supports to bring the art form closer to oil painting in scale and technique, and raising the status of miniature painting in the process. His innovations were continued by his pupil, William Ross, who may also have been a family member. Ross enjoyed unprecedented success as a miniature painter and was the first since the seventeenth century to be knighted. The union of his talents with the enthusiastic patronage of Queen Victoria, drove him to become the international court miniaturist of the period, and he was invited to paint the royal families of Belgium (1840), France (1841) and Portugal (1852). Robert Thorburn’s work in miniature was influenced by the time he spend abroad in Italy. He first came to Queen Victoria’s notice in 1844 as ‘a young Scotchman, of great talent, who… has painted some splendid miniatures, with such depth of colouring & such power, as I have never before seen in a miniature’. Thorburn’s success as a miniature painter was also due to the exceptional size of his miniatures which exploited a new technique for cutting larger slices of ivory from around the circumference of the tusk. Kenneth Macleay was one of the last successful miniature painters of the nineteenth-century. His career suffered as a result of the rival art form of photography, but was revived after his work came to the attention of Queen Victoria in 1864.