Dr. Nathaniel Spens (1728-1815)

Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (1860 - 1947)
Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 - 1823)

Colour mezzotint

10 September 1921

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  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection

    Standing in a lush, wooded setting and in the act of drawing his bow, the surgeon and member of the Royal Company of Archers Dr. Nathaniel Spens is seen here in a portrait commissioned by the Company for Archer’s Hall in Edinburgh.

    In April 1791 two artists, Henry Raeburn and David Martin, were commissioned to paint council member Spens and President of the Company Sir James Pringle. Pringle had first choice of artist and chose the more conservative Martin, while Spens, left with the more junior painter, was immortalised as the subject of this innovative and much-celebrated work.

    The Company later commissioned an engraving of Raeburn’s portrait from John Beugo in 1794 and copies were distributed as prizes. This mezzotint print after Raeburn’s painting was published almost 150 years later in 1943. It was made by engraver Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (no relation) in 1943 and exhibited at the Royal Academy that year.

  • About the artist
    Henry Macbeth-Raeburn, painter and engraver, was the son of the portrait painter Norman Macbeth (1821-1888). His siblings included the painters Norman (1821-1888) and James (1847-1891), and Allan Macbeth (1856-1910), a noted organist, choirmaster and principal of the Glasgow College of Music. Henry added Raeburn to his name to distinguish himself from the other painters in his family. He began his career in Edinburgh, but later moved to London. He exhibited 17 works at the Royal Academy, 4 at the New Water-Colour Society and one at the Royal Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street, London.
    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
    Spens, Nathaniel
    Materials & Techniques
    mezzotint, colour mezzotint
  • Details
    Dr. Nathaniel Spens (1728-1815)
    10 September 1921
    Colour mezzotint
    Purchased from Vicars Bros., June 1957
    below image, left, in pencil: H. Macbeth-Raeburn [unreadable monogram]
    GAC number