Dr. James Hamilton Senior (1749-1835) Edinburgh Physician

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Downing Street

    Dr James Hamilton, seen here at about the age of 40, was a prominent and well-respected physician in late 18th- and early 19th-century Edinburgh. He worked at the Royal Infirmary, the Trades Maiden Hospital and George Heriot’s Hospital, a school which had earlier been attended by Henry Raeburn. Hamilton authored a successful medical text book, ‘Observations on the Utility and Administration of Purgative Medicines’, first published in 1805, which ran to eight editions. He was known in his later years as one of the last of Edinburgh’s residents to wear 18th-century clothing and his three-cornered cocked-hat led to the nickname ‘Cocky Hamilton’.

    Henry Raeburn painted Dr. Hamilton three times. The latest portrait (1812), commissioned by the Trades Maiden Hospital, is now in a private collection. A slightly earlier (1809) version is in the collection of Lord Moncreiff of Tullibole Castle and this, the first of the three portraits, was purchased for the Government Art Collection from Christie’s, in 2001, from a descendant of a surgeon named Benjamin Bell. Bell and Hamilton studied together in Paris and both later worked at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. Bell married Hamilton’s sister, Grizel, in 1775 and numerous members of the Bell family were painted by Raeburn, who undoubtedly became something of a family friend.

  • About the artist
    Henry Raeburn was born in the village of Stockbridge (now within Edinburgh), where his parents ran a yarn-boiling business. However, by the age of eight he was orphaned and residing at a charity school. He was later apprenticed to a goldsmith and during this time began painting full-scale portraits. His marriage (c.1780) to Ann Leslie, a wealthy widow, allowed him to study in Rome (c.1784-87). Despite success, he became insolvent in 1808 as a result of failed investments and remained in debt for the rest of his life. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1792 and was elected a member in 1815. He was knighted in 1822 and appointed ‘limner and painter in Scotland’ to the king in 1823. However, he died in the same year, aged 67.
  • Explore
    Hamilton, James
    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Dr. James Hamilton Senior (1749-1835) Edinburgh Physician
    Oil on canvas
    height: 90.00 cm, width: 71.00 cm
    Purchased from Sotheby's, 4 July 2001
    Collection of William Hamilton Bell by 1868; by family descent; sold through Sotheby's, London, on 4 July 2001 (Lot 55); from which sale purchased by the Government Art Collection
    GAC number