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PAINTINGS OF A RELUCTANT MUSE: ROBERT BURNS BY ALEXANDER NASMYTH

NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND, EDINBURGH

Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1787 by Alexander Nasmyth at the Scottish National Gallery
Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1787 by Alexander Nasmyth at the Scottish National Gallery

Robert Burns (1759–1796) is said to have been a rather reluctant sitter and consequently there are few paintings of the poet during his lifetime. The most famous portraits were painted by his close friend the Scottish artist Alexander Nasmyth (1758 - 1840) who is commonly known for his (mostly Scottish) landscapes.


The first portrait Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1787 has been widely reproduced and is probably the most recognised. It was commissioned for a new edition of Burns’s poems about which Burns modestly said: ‘I am getting my phiz done by an eminent engraver, and, if it can be ready in time, I will appear in my book, looking like all other fools to my title page.’

Nasmyth painted this portrait in a rush to capture the modest muse.

Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1828 by Alexander Nasmyth at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1828 by Alexander Nasmyth at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Such was Burn’s reluctance at being painted, even by a familiar friend, the second portrait was painted posthumously in 1828. Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796. Poet 1828 is a romantic painting of Burns gazing at an Ayrshire landscape with the “Auld Brig o’ Doon” at Alloway behind him. The painting is as much a testament to Nasmyth’s affection for his friend as to the beloved poet himself. It has been used as an inspiration for statues of Burns worldwide.


Both portraits can be viewed at the National Galleries of Scotland.

@NatGalleriesSco

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