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The Cover
November 15, 2000

John Tait and His Grandson

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2000;284(19):2420. doi:10.1001/jama.284.19.2420

In what was probably meant as praise, but which has about it an aura of condescension, however faint, Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) has been called the "Scottish Lawrence" and the "Scottish Reynolds," after the English portrait painters, Sir Thomas and Sir Joshua, respectively. More than likely Sir Henry would have liked to be known simply as Sir Henry, Scotland's greatest painter during Edinburgh's greatest age.

He was born in Stockbridge, near Edinburgh, to Robert Raeburn, a wool boiler, and Ann Elder, and by age seven, the young Henry had been orphaned. His education was taken up by George Heriot's Hospital, a school for the orphaned children of Scottish tradesmen. When he was sixteen he was apprenticed to a jeweler, where he learned not only to make jewelry but also to paint miniatures. Exactly when he decided to commit himself to a career in painting is not known, but he is believed to be largely self-taught. In 1784, now 28, he went to Rome where he remained for about three years. Whether he adopted anything from his study of the masters there is not evident in his work, but a brief stay in Sir Joshua Reynold's studio in London did leave its mark. Back in Edinburgh by 1787, Raeburn established a portrait studio on George Street. His success was almost immediate. He also became Miniaturist to the Queen in Scotland. Meanwhile, at age 24, Raeburn had married Ann Leslie, a 36-year old widow of means; the couple had two sons.