Paintings You Should Know: ‘The Skating Minister’ by Henry Raeburn (1784)

This is one of those paintings that you really should know about just because it’s fun. What’s not to love about The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch? The Minister so solemn and intent in his serious black coat, hat, and hose, arms folded in what one might imagine is a gesture of restraint – and yet gliding in joyful frivolity over the ice of the Loch, one leg upraised behind him.

The skating Minister, by Henry Raeburn
Henry Raeburn, The Rev. Robert Walker Skating, mid-1790s

This was the age of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, but with typical British perversity it is difficult to decide exactly where The Skating Minister fits. Its playfulness and natural setting is Romantic, but there is none of the sweeping heroism or drama of the Romantic. Raeburn was well known at the time as a painter of portraits, and appreciated particularly for his knack of capturing not just the likeness but the essence of the individual. This is certainly the case with Reverend Robert Walker, who as well as being a clergyman was a member of the Edinburgh Skating Club, the first figure-skating club formed anywhere in the world. The unconventional setting of the portrait, therefore, displays what would otherwise be hidden and forgotten.

The Skating Minister is painted in oil on canvas and is quite a small painting, measuring 76cm by 64cm. It is housed in the National Gallery of Scotland.

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