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“The Skating Minister” by Henry Raeburn

"The Skating Minister" by Henry Raeburn

“The Skating Minister” by Henry Raeburn

“The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch” by Henry Raeburn is better known by the title “The Skating Minister” and is an icon of Scottish culture.

Reverend Walker was a member of the Edinburgh Skating Club, the first figure skating club formed anywhere in the world. The club met on Duddingston Loch when these lochs were suitably frozen.

The Reverend Robert Walker (1755 – 1808) was a Church of Scotland minister. His father became minister of the Scottish Kirk in Rotterdam in 1760, where he learned to skate on frozen canals in the Netherlands. 

Like his father and grandfather, Walker became a Church of Scotland clergyman. He was also a member of the Royal Company of Archers and was elected as a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1784.

The painting is unusual in both its composition and its setting. The composition symbolized Walker’s ties with Holland and echoed seventeenth-century Dutch artworks showing skaters in Holand.

The Reverend is depicted skating with both arms folded across his chest, and his black outfit contrast with the frozen background of Duddingston Loch.

Raeburn hints in his composition that his subject was at heart something of a romantic for all of the minister’s outward probity and self-restraint.

This painting was practically unknown until about 1949 but has since become one of Scotland’s best-known paintings.

It was painted during one of the most remarkable periods in the country’s history, the Scottish Enlightenment.

Scottish Enlightenment

The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th- and early-19th-century Scotland characterized by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. 

The Enlightenment culture was based on reading new books and the intense discussions and debates about new ideas at Edinburgh’s intellectual gathering places. 

Sharing the humanist outlook of the European Enlightenment, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason.

Among the Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns, and James Hutton.

The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland.

Henry Raeburn

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 – 1823) was a British portrait painter who served as Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland. Raeburn made more than a thousand paintings spanning 50 years.

In 1815 he was elected a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and in 1822 he received a knighthood from King George IV.

Raeburn was a popular and successful portrait painter. He produced telling and forcible likeness, and his work is distinguished by powerful characterization, realism, dramatic lighting effects. 

The Skating Minister

  • Title:               The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch
  • Artist:             Henry Raeburn
  • Year:              1790s
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 30 in (76.2 cm); Width: 25 in (63.5 cm)
  • Museum:       Scottish National Gallery

Henry Raeburn

“The Skating Minister” by Henry Raeburn

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Skating Minister 1790 Scotland

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“May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.”
– Irish Proverb


Photo Credit: Henry Raeburn / Public domain

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