Archibald Skirving (Athelstaneford, near Haddington 1749-1819 Inveresk)
Archibald Skirving (Athelstaneford, near Haddington 1749-1819 Inveresk)

Portrait of a young lady, possibly Lady Pringle, née Emilia Anne MacLeod (1786-1830)

Archibald Skirving (Athelstaneford, near Haddington 1749-1819 Inveresk)
Portrait of a young lady, possibly Lady Pringle, née Emilia Anne MacLeod (1786-1830)
indistinctly signed with initials and dated 'AS/1815(?)' (centre right) and with inscription 'Sir John Pringle Bart' (on an old label attached to the frame)
21¾ x 16 in. (55.3 x 40.7 cm.)
in the original walnut and gilt frame probably made by Chalmers & Son, Edinburgh
Sir John Pringle, Bt., and by descent.
N. Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online edition.

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Lot Essay

The appearance of this previously unrecorded portrait by Skirving in its original frame is an important addition to the artist's oeuvre. Pastels by Skirving are rare: sixty are recorded in Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, and only three of these are signed examples. However of more significance is the date '1815' as pastels executed after 1803 are almost unheard of and this work forces us to re-examine the traditional narrative that Skirving stopped making pastels.

The date of 1815 and the inscription 'Sir John Pringle Bart' suggests that the sitter was Emilia Anne MacLeod (1786-1830), first wife of Sir John Pringle, 5th Bt of Stitchell or Stitchill, whom he married in 1809. Born on 17 October 1786, she was the 2nd daughter of the 23rd Chief of the MacLeod clan. She died in 1830 having borne eight children. There is also a connection with another Skirving sitter, Mrs John Pringle, née Mary Drummond (1719-1804), illustrated in Raeburn's Rival, Archibald Skirving 1749-1819, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, exhib. cat., 1999. Mary was married to John Pringle of Stitchell (d. 1784), Writer to the Signet and 1st cousin of Sir Robert Pringle, 3rd Bt of Stitchell (1690-1779).

A talented and skilled portraitist, who occasionally worked in oil and as a miniaturist, Skirving displays his greatest skill and sensitivity in his pastels, and his work appears at auction infrequently. He left Edinburgh for London in 1777 and stayed there until he returned to Edinburgh in 1784. Owing to his slow method of working and intense competition from other portrait miniaturists, he may have found it difficult to establish himself in London and hard to re-establish himself in Edinburgh in mid-1780s. He made a formative visit to Rome in 1786 where he remained for seven years.

The present portrait was executed towards the end of Skirving's life, when he had retired as a professional artist. He often required up to sixty sittings and was renowned for his plain speaking. The novelist Henry Mackenzie wrote the following account: 'His portraits were facsimiles, even of the blemishes of the faces which he painted; he never spared a freckle or a smallpox mark, and once, with his characteristic rudeness, told a lady who had a very dingy complexion he could not paint her, for he had not enough of yellow chalk for the purpose.'

For other examples of Skirving's work in pastel see The Intimate Portrait, London, 2009, pp. 88-93.

We are grateful to Neil Jeffares and Dr Stephen Lloyd for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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