"It's almost impossible to choose a favourite from the National Gallery of Scotland's brilliant collection, but there are several paintings I return to again and again. One of these is Raeburn's breathtaking portrait of Major William Clunes. The composition reminds me of Caravaggio's Conversion of St Paul from Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. I imagine Raeburn might have seen it. Few artists have the skill or chutzpah to design a portrait in which the rippling hind-quarters of a horse take up a large proportion of the canvas. It's a dazzling picture."
Alison Watt, artist
Clunes is believed to have been a native of Sutherland. He joined the 50th (West Kent) Regiment of Foot in 1790, where he became lieutenant in 1794 and captain in 1797. From 1807, he served in the Peninsular War against France under Sir John Moore. In July 1809 he was promoted to major in the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot, and it is the uniform of this post that he is shown wearing in this portrait. This portrait is believed to have been painted between his appointment as major in 1809 and the end of his active army service around 1811-12. Raeburn’s great equestrian portraits suggest that he was familiar with similar portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which he may have known through engraved reproductions.
Originally apprenticed to a goldsmith, Henry Raeburn showed enormous artistic talent as a young man. In 1784 he moved to London where he met the important portrait painter Joshua Reynolds. He spent some time in Italy but returned to Edinburgh in 1787 where he began painting portraits of the rich, famous and important people of his day. He was in constant demand and received many honours: in 1822 he was knighted when the King visited Edinburgh. Sir Henry Raeburn died a year later.