Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1746-1823)

Figure 1.--Thse boys are the Allen brothers of Errol. This painting was executed about 1790. Note that their skeleton suits are worn with knee breeches rather than long pants.

Sir Henry Raeburn is perhaps the most well known Scottish painter. He is certainly one of the most highly regarded Scottish portrait painter. He is generally regarded as one of the most masterful painters of the Scottish upper classes. The portarits of boys reflect the prevalence of English fashions and the limited popularity of the kilt.


He was born in Stockbridge, near Edinburgh. I have no information on his boyhood other than the fact that he was an orphan. I have no information on the clothes he wore as a boy.

He was apprenticed to a goldsmith and taught himself to paint, progressing from miniatures to full-size canvases.


After marrying an affluent widow in 1780 he was able to devote himself fully to portrait painting. He traveled in Italy for 2 years from 1785-87, studying the masters. He returned to Edinburgh in 1787 and soon gained recognition as a portraitist of the Scottish upper class. He painted his first portrait in 1787.

Body of Work

Raeburn's work shows the influence of the contemporary English portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom he met; Raeburn has been called the Scottish Reynolds. His portraits are characterized by their "square touch" brushstroke style, dark backgrounds, and lack of preliminary drawing.

Figure 2.--I am not sure who the boy was or when this image was painted, but it would probably be 1800-10. Note the extremely low cut open ruffled blouse. Also notice the tam-like headgear.

Raeburn was elected president of the Society of Artists in Eduinburgh. In 1815 he became a member of the Royal Academy. George IV knighted him in 1822.

Raeburn best-known works are The Rev. Robert Walker Skating (1784) and The McNab (1803-13), both in the National Gallery, Edinburgh, and Miss Eleanor Urquhart Raeburn (1795?, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

The Portraits

I do not have full information on the portraits picture here. I do not yet have full information on the first image (figure 1). The second portrait pictured here is ??? and was painted in ?? (figure 2).

Figure 3.--The boys are the Binney? children. It was painted about 1811. The norm for these suits were open ruffled collars. Note the unusual three-colun button arrangement.

The Fashions

The portraits pictured here both show the skeketon fashion popular in the early 19th cebtury. The shidt from knee breeches in the late 18th cebtury to long pants in the early 19th century in these suits is apparent in Raeburns' work.

The first image shows the skeleton suits that were worn in the late 18th century. They were worn with the kneebreeches common before the turn of the century. The blouses worn with these suits were almost always open necked with ruffled collars. The boys were John Lee (1781-1846) and James Allen (1783 - ? ). The sitters were the sons of John Allen of Inchmartine and his wife Flavel, whose family name is not known. Inchmartine is in the Carse of Gowrie on the north bank of the River Tay, a few miles from the estate and mansion house of Errol, which John Allen purchased in 1786. A deed of settlement of 1794 makes it clear that the eldest son, John Lee Allen, was to inherit the estate of Errol and that his second son, James Allen, was to succeed to Inchmartine. Near to Errol is Port Allen, now completely silted up but a thriving port in the early nineteenth century, which presumably took its name from the family. John Allen also owned a house in St Andrews Square in Edinburgh and the boys may have been born there. The boys' father was dead by 1793 when the elder boy was granted sasine of Errol. He remained proprietor of Errol until 1846, when he was succeeded by his eldest son, John James Allen.

The second image shows a boy in a frilly blouse and long trousers. The confortable open blouse is remarkable for the low cut. The ruffles are common for eaely 19th century outfits. Note the boy's short hair. He wears a floppy beret-like head gear, that is one of the earliest tams I have noted. The small image is not real clear. It looks like he may be wearing a blouse without a jacket. But he may have a jacket that matches the pants. I'm not sure what the material was.

The third image shows two brothers wearing matching skeleton suits, the Binney children. Skeleton suits with long pants that were still the height of fashion in 18the 1810s. The jacket has an unsual three columns of buttons. The material of the suit appears to be velvet. Although some reports suggest that sailor suits was worn by boys in the late 18th and early 19th century, it is interesting to note that boys are almost always painted in skeleton suits during the early 19th century. Notice how short hair styles are the norm for boys.


Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 10, 1999
Last updated: October 10, 1999