Henry Raeburn Dobson

Henry Raeburn Dobson (29 May 1901 – 22 May 1985;[1] also known as Raeburn Dobson) was a Scottish portrait and landscape painter from Edinburgh who was active in Edinburgh and Brussels from 1918/1920 until 1980. His father Henry John Dobson (1858–1928) and his brother Cowan Dobson (1894–1980) were genre and portrait painters. His portraits are mainly painted in oil, while his landscape paintings are mainly painted in watercolour.


Henry Raeburn Dobson, who was to become a fine society portrait painter, was born into middle-class family with roots in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His father, Henry John Dobson (1858–1928)10,[2] was himself a Scottish genre and portrait painter from Dalry. His grandfather, Thomas Dobson, was a wool merchant[3] in the town of Kirkcudbright. It is said in the family that there was a Dobson wool mill in Dalry. Perhaps this mill was owned and run by Thomas.[4]

Henry John did not maintain the family tradition of running the family wool business. To become a painter he sacrificed his inheritance since family legend has it that Thomas Dobson disowned his son.[4] Henry John's whole life would be marked by financial difficulties.

Henry John married Jeannie Charlotte Hannah Cowan on 17 September 1890, in Dalry, in the district of Kirkcudbright.[5] To exercise his art (and because there were more opportunities for paintings portraits in the Scottish capital) they later moved to a house in Edinburgh. Raeburn was born there at 9, Merchiston Crescent[6] in a house that is stated to have had at least "7 rooms with one or more windows".[7] At that time, the family had an in-house servant, Barbara Sutherland.[7]

As a portrait painter, Henry John did not have much success. He transitioned into Scottish genre paintings in the style of Thomas Faed (1826–1900), Henry Wright Kerr (1857–1936) and David Wilkie (1785–1841). These scenes were especially popular in the United States and Canada, where they were often printed on tin biscuit boxes. Because Henry John often had difficulties paying the rent, the family moved quite often. It is said that he actually lived from hand to mouth and that it was mainly due to the household skills of his wife Jeannie that the family survived.


Raeburn was the youngest of Henry John Dobson's four children. The oldest child was Thomas Stanley, born in 1892 and named after his grandfather. He was known as Stanley. He became an actor, but also worked for an art dealer named Robertson in London. David Cowan Dobson was born in 1894 and was known as Cowan Dobson, a well known London Society portrait painter. Although he painted some very fine portraits of well known men, like Earl Attlee, Earl Beatty and Harold Wilson, he mainly portrayed "fashionable London ladies".[8] The name Cowan was given to David after his mother's family name. The only sister was Louisa Rankin. She was born in 1896 and was also known as Louie. She had an intense family bond with her younger brother and – together with mother Jeannie – looked after him her whole lifelong.

Raeburn was given the name of Henry Raeburn, after the famous eighteenth-century Scottish portrait painter, Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), whom his father admired hugely.

School yearsEdit

Despite Henry John's financial precariousness, he sent his children to good local schools. Little is known about Raeburn's school days. His first years of formal education were spent at James Gillespie's High School, in Edinburgh. He and Louisa were enrolled together, on 5 September 1906.[9] The family then lived at 4 Glengyle Terrace, Edinburgh.

Raeburn left Gillespie's on 18 July 1911 to attend the prestigious George Watson's College, also in Edinburgh.[10] The family attached much importance to good education. At that time, the school was based near Lauriston Place in the centre of Edinburgh. Only in 1932 George Watson's College moved to present building in Colinton Road, outside the city centre. He was admitted to George Watson's College on 26 September 1911. He left the school in July 1917, to attend (according to the school's archives) Art College.[11]

In his last year at the College (his fifth) he studied English, History, Mathematics, Latin and French. His best subjects were the latter two. Drawing was then only taught to boys up to the fourth year. His art teacher at Watson's was Ralph W. Hay[12] In art teaching he was a pioneer of the Modern Movement in Scotland.[13] He was one of the first to break away from the traditional colourless nineteenth-century way of teaching drawing. He was all in favour of colour, decoration and the expression of fantasy. This may explain why Raeburn's portraits – unlike his brother's portraits – are more colourful.

There is one odd circumstance which has been noted in his records. Henry left the school without warning in July 1912 to attend Mr. A. Miller Inglis' School for Boys, Maidenhead College, Maidenhead, Berkshire. Mr. Inglis was a cousin of his father. The note states "…but probably not to be there long as mother is missing him being at home."25. He did indeed return quickly to Edinburgh and returned to George Watson's College, but this time he stayed at a private boarding house run by Mrs. Imrie, who catered for George Watson's College pupils.[14]

His art education started by being taught drawing and painting by his father. In 1917, after his years at George Watson's, he attended the Edinburgh College of Art, but only for one year[15] According to his R.A.F. file, he attended the Royal College of Art in London the following year, where he studied until 1924.[16] However, this cannot be proven, because the Royal College of Art in London does not have any records of Raeburn. In 1921, he was elected "Associate Member" of the Royal Cambrian Academy, of which he became a full member in 1930.[17]

London yearsEdit

Raeburn left Edinburgh sometime between 1928 and 1929 and went to live and work in London, only to return to Scotland after the War. Several references[18] state the following addresses for Raeburn :

  • (1927) 130 George Street, Edinburgh
  • (1928) 130 George St, Edinburgh
  • (1929) Studio 108, Earl's Court Road, London, W8
  • (1931) 5 Thurloe Square, SW7
  • (1939) 20, Cranley Place, London SW7
  • (1940) 82, Studland Rd, Hanwell, London, W732
  • (1941) c/o Mathieson, 20 Frederick St., Edinburgh[19]
  • (1941–1947) 12, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh 2
  • (1945) f/o, R.A.F., c/o C. Robertson & Co., 71 Parkway,London, N.W. 1
  • (1950–1963) The Scottish Liberal Club, Edinburgh
  • (1965) Mavisbush Lodge, Polton, Lasswade, Midlothian

However, these addresses are a mixture of residences, post boxes and studio addresses. In 1945 he had a forwarding address at the shop where his brother worked. In 1947, Raeburn had already returned to Edinburgh[20] and lived a very long time in Queen Street, before moving to Fettes Row, on the outskirts of the Georgian New Town of the Scottish capital. The address at the Scottish Liberal Club was probably a post box. But, he exhibited there and he may also have had some rooms there.[21]

Mavisbush Lodge was his workshop. At that time (1965) he lived in a flat at 5, Fettes Row, Edinburgh.[22]

In the early 1920, his elder brother Cowan Dobson, an official war artist,[23] had already settled in the British capital. He was well established in London, and in his home town Glasgow. His wife, Phyllis Bowyer, a fragile looking lady, always elegantly dressed and made up with powder and red lipstick, was a driving force behind his success. Cowan and Phyllis travelled constantly between Glasgow and London and probably made Raeburn decide to try his luck in the British capital.

Although Raeburn's sheer production of portraits is amazing,[citation needed] and although he was considered as one of the best portrait painters in Edinburgh,[citation needed] Raeburn, contrary to his elder brother, was never be as commercially successful as Cowan: neither in London, nor in Edinburgh and not even in Brussels. Raeburn himself seemed not to have been interested in making money and – unlike his brother – did not have a wife who would make this her vocation.

In London, Raeburn lived in expensive places. Thurloe Square and Cranley Place, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, were prestigious addresses, as was Earls Court Road. He wanted to create an image for his customers and properly for himself: the image of a well-to-do society painter. Such image was very much acceptable for his customers. In the late 1920s, Raeburn befriended a Mrs. Humphries. She belonged to the 'London Set' and was a close friend to Harold Macmillan. She introduced the painter into the London Society. Through Mrs. Humphries, the painter met many prominent figures. He was introduced to the Mitford family and – through them – was exposed to their political views. In this pre-war period Raeburn painted the portrait of Gordon Highlander Col. Osbaldeston-Mitford, which was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1940, and – in 1928 – one of the few life-size portraits he ever made, the portrait of the Maharaja of Jodhpur (India), Umaid Singh.[24]

On 19 January 1939, Raeburn married the 13 years younger Isabella Rae Smith Dawson. She was born in Falkirk, near Stirling, Scotland, on 23 September 1913. In the marriage certificate is stated that she was the daughter of chemist researcher Hugh Leishman Smith, by the name of Hugh Smith Dawson.[25] However, when researching Isabella's genealogy, her father seemed to have been an ironmoulder and that her forefathers were all labourers, colliers and coal miners from Falkirk, Muiravonside and Tillicoultry (Clackmannan).[26] The couple never lived together. After the wedding, Raeburn continued living with his mother in Cranley Place where he lived with his mother, who mainly looked after the house for him. And Isabella remained at her address at 85, Warwick Road. Both mother, Jeannie Cowan, and sister, Louie, were not in favour of this marriage and probably did everything they could – if not to prevent it from happening – then to terminate it. It is said that they had some suspicion about Isabella's identity and history.

The marriage did not last long, because RAF records of 1942 state that Raeburn was separated from his wife.[27] Strangely there is no official record of a divorce, nor of an annulment in the Registers of the Divorce Courts of England and Wales. However, it is possible that the marriage was annulled – or that they were divorced – in Scotland.[28] According to many family members, Raeburn took Isabella Rae often to family gatherings. And she was very much liked by all his nieces and nephews. Nothing more is known about Isabella.

In his biography of Henry Raeburn Dobson, Dr. Cabris refers to his marriage to Isabel Rae Smith Dawson. This marriage took place in 1939 and according to Dr Cabris did not last long as in 1942 his RAF record shows that he was separated from his wife although no record of a divorce seems to be available. It is also stated that while his mother and sister did not like his wife being somewhat suspicious of her stated history, his nephews and nieces and other members of his family very much enjoyed her company.

Dr. Cabris' research shows Isabella's father was in fact a moulder from Falkirk not, as she claimed, a research chemist. He concludes that part of the biography by saying that nothing further is known of Isabella.

Isabella Rae Smith Dawson was the daughter of a moulder, Hugh Smith Leishman Dawson of Falkirk. She and her sisters Elizabeth and Ann together with brothers Hugh and John were born in Falkirk. The family then moved to Birmingham where her father took employment in a Birmingham foundry. It was there that her sister Jean and brother William were born.

Isabella moved to London early in the war years where she worked as a telephonist. In 1945 Isabella married Capt. William J Stangel of the USAF who flew a Mustang in the American Squadron nicknamed the blue nosed bastards. He achieved the fighter pilot status of AAce@ with five, possibly six, kills to his name. As Dr Cabris has said there appears to be no record of a divorce between her and Raeburn and indeed later in 1945 she was tried and found guilty of bigamy and sent to prison. During that time my wife was sent to live with her grandmother in Birmingham. The marriage to Capt. Stangel would have been nullified due to the bigamous element, but whether that also served to complete the divorce from Raeburn is not known and as stated no record of any such divorce appears to be available.

In later years Isabella married and RAF sergeant.

As stated Isabella died in 1983 having been ill for some time. Captain, later Major, Stangel died in 1974.

Raeburn's World War recordEdit

During the Second World War, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF), interpreting photographs of enemy positions made by RAF reconnaissance flights. He most probably got his training for this in the secret quarters of Medmenham. He joined the RAF as an ordinary airman (aircrew) in 1942.[29] He is recorded as being 5-foot 8 inches and having brown eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.[30] However, on 16 June 1943 he was commissioned as officer. He was granted a commission as an Acting Pilot Officer on 17 June 1943.[29] On 3 March 1944 he was promoted to Flying Officer.[31] He was demobilised on 12 February 1946, but kept on the reserve until he relinquished it on 10 February 1954.

After the Invasion, Raeburn served under the command of Air Marshall Sir Arthur Coningham in Paris, and continued to serve as an Interpreter until his demobilisation in 1946. Raeburn became well befriended with the Air Marshall and attended many parties on his yacht in Cannes. In a letter to his sister, Raeburn wrote : " …we are leaving on the yacht at 10.30. A very large party today. 20 people. Four Princess (one the Prince of Monaco) and goodness knows how many Counts and Comtesses are coming. What a life ! Phyllis would be in her element among all this life. I have a nice wee girl friend, daughter of the Prince de Faucigny-Lucinge, a Rothschild, and one of the oldest families in France. She's a darling...."[32] But, he found life on the French Riviera quite frustrating. He wrote to his sister : " …This place is demoralizing. One can't settle to write or do anything. I am having the usual difficulties to be expected painting an air marshal on holiday {the Air Marshall and Lady Coningham had left France for England}, but I will win in the end...."[33]

His cousin Andrew Blackwood Dobson remembered : "…I do recall him telling me (or Dad) that he did follow in the frontline RAF behind the lines into Europe, interpreting photo reconnaissance as the invasion advanced and that in his spare time he drew portraits of fellow officers in the mess. I think it was through this activity that he met Belgians during the advance through Belgium...."[34] while another cousin Andrew Njal Dobson remembered especially the viewer and stereographs Raeburn had used during the war.[35]

In July 1944, The Times of London published a rather bizarre obituary of Henry Raeburn.[36] The reason for this obituary is not known. But the very much alive painter was certainly much alarmed by this slight "error". In The Times of Monday 7 August 1944 he wrote: "...Mr. Henry Raeburn Dobson, the Scottish portrait painter, who is at present serving with the R.A.F., wishes to be known that the NOTICE of his DEATH through enemy action is UNTRUE...."[37]

Post-war yearsEdit

After the War, Raeburn left London and went back to live in Edinburgh. It was also around that time that his Belgian 'adventure' started (see further).

His first own post-war studio in Edinburgh was at 12, Shandwick Place, in the Georgian part of the city. He occupied this studio from 1941 until 1947. Before that, he had been exhibiting at the gallery of the art dealer and collector Mathieson, in Frederick Street. It was in Shandwick Place that the portraits of Bill, Janette and Andrew Blackwood Dobson, his cousins, were painted. Shandwick Place is the street leading west from Princes Street at what is known in Edinburgh as the West End (of Princes Street). It is part of the western extension of the New Town, but many of the Georgian buildings have been replaced with Victorian and later buildings. No. 12 is now a nightclub. In Raeburn's time however it contained suites of showrooms and studios, while on the top floor there might have been an apartment.

Raeburn's studios always faced north. Raeburn indeed always rented spaces facing north, because northern light is the best light for painting. He especially liked to paint when the sky was bright blue with some clouds at the horizon, to reflect the northern light.

It must also have been around the end of the 1940 that he met his life companion, Miss Evelyn Wight. They met at the Royal Scottish Dance Society in Edinburgh. Evelyn Agnes Mark Wight, was the daughter of George Wight and Catharina Mark, and born 26 July 1900 in Edinburgh.[38] Raeburn and Evelyn were often seen at Jenners in Princes Street, having their afternoon tea.

They remained very good friends, until she died from a heart attack at her home at 13, Leamington Terrace, Edinburgh on 2 April 1985,[39] only a few weeks before his own death.

Raeburn's studio at Mavisbush Lodge in Polton, Lasswade, near Edinburgh. The actual studio was on the first floor of the rear building.

Many described Evelyn as the 'arty' person and some claimed that there was an aura of sadness about her because Raeburn did not marry her. We do not know whether Raeburn could not marry Evelyn because he was in fact still married to Isabella Rae, whether he simply would not give marriage a second try after the rather disastrous first attempt or whether unmarried life actually suited him. Raeburn would always refer to her as "Miss Wight" and would never take her to official events, and hardly ever to family events.

From 1950 until 1964, Raeburn exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy[40] and maybe in the Scottish Liberal Club.[41] But, besides an inscription on the reverse side of the first portrait of the Bishop of Bath and Wells stating that his address was at the Liberal Club in Edinburgh, no written proof about the latter has been found.[42]

In 1956 he exhibited a portrait of Stewart McKechnie in McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.

Around 1965, he moved his studio to the Lasswade area, at Mavisbush Lodge, in Polton.[43] The upper floor of the coach house (a long rectangular space) was transformed into his studio in 1965. Raeburn then knew it as Mavisbush Lodge, but it has since been renamed Priorwood Lodge. The Lodge was owned by one of his cousins, who set up this work space in the attic of the house.[44]

In the early 1970s, when the Lodge was sold, Raeburn moved his studio from Polton to his one bedroom flat on the first floor of 5, Fettes Row, on the edge of Edinburgh's New Town, which he had bought earlier on.[45]

Around that time Raeburn started to have serious physical problems and at the end of the 1970 his eyesight started to fade and he started to suffer from arteriosclerosis.

Raeburn in BelgiumEdit

As mentioned before, Raeburn's career in Belgium started after the hostilities of World War II, in 1946. In August 1945 he was still serving under Marshall Arthur Coningham in Paris.[46] But, in April 1946 he writes a letter to his mother from the house of a Madame Duchateau at the fashionable address of Avenue Jeanne, 52 in Elsene, Brussels,[47] telling that he was just about to furnish his painter's studio.

Henry Raeburn's Brussels studio on the third floor of 11, Barrikadenplein. His entry was in the square, while the entry to his favourite pub was in the 'rue de la Révolution' (door with two windows); Brussels, Sint-Joost-Ten-Noode, Belgium.

This lady is said to have had a son killed during the War and asked Dobson to paint a portrait of her son, from a photograph. However, there is a doubt about the identity of the dead son, because in a letter to his mother dd. 11 April 1946 Raeburn wrote : "…My first snag took place yesterday, however. Mr. Marshall, who's portrait I started when I was over before heard only yesterday morning that his son, who had been missing for a year was actually shot by the Germans last spring. His body has been identified. Mr. Marshall is extremely cut up at this definite news and won't be able to sit for a week or two I fear. He is not a young man. First snag !! I wonder when the next one will crop up and what form it will take.…"[47]

It is therefore more likely that the portrait of the dead 'son' which introduced Raeburn in Belgian High Society was the portrait of the son of Mr. Marshall and not of Madame Duchateau.

The portrait was such a success, that Raeburn was recommended as portrait painter to countess de Liedekerke, Madeleine Beckaert, who recommended him to many other Belgian aristocratic families. Raeburn became well befriended with some of these Belgian families, especially with the family of Baroness Cécile Van Houtte-de Stella, with the Carton de Tournai and with Princess Léontine de Ligne de Lambertye-Gerbéviller. He stayed extensive times at their castles and was invited to the wedding of Baron Van Houtte's daughter. He even arranged for his cousin Janette Dobson in 1955 to act as an 'au pair' to the family of H. Baron Carton de Tournai of Bonsecours, near Perluwez, Belgium.[48]

In Brussels, he set his first studio up in April 1946 (see above) at 11, Barricadenplein. In a letter to his mother of 11 April of that year he wrote: "… Yesterday I organized my studio. What a beautiful light. I have had a store put in and have got an easel throne, chair, table on loan.…"[47] Since the end of the War, Raeburn would come every year to Belgium for three or four months, to look for and to work at his commissions.

Later he moved his studio to the socially far less acceptable area of Sint-Joost-Ten-Noode (Brussels). But, as many of his customers refused to come to this ill-famed borough, Raeburn went to their homes and resided there for an extended period of time while painting the family portraits.

In 1974, while painting the portraits of Countess Lippens and of Monsieur Jadot, he felt ill and suddenly went back to Edinburgh. He never finished either portrait. After 1975, he only shortly visited Brussels on several occasions, and gave the impression of being very forgetful and confused at times. He suffered from arteriosclerosis, which lead to anterograde amnesia and finally to senile dementia.

Last yearsEdit

Raeburn's last years were quite difficult. Because of his arteriosclerosis, he was unable to care for himself. This became clear when his friend Margaret Doughty, née McKechnie visited the painter in his flat on Fettes Row. She found the place getting more and more uncared for indeed, and rather messy. The sad thing was that Raeburn was well aware of his failing mental health.

In 1977, his eyesight started to fade. In that very year, he started a watercolour portrait of Kirsten Doughty the daughter of his friend Margaret Doughty, née McKechnie. However, due to his fading eyesight, the portrait became a true disaster. Raeburn was well aware of this and promised Margaret a new portrait of her daughter. It took him two years to complete this work. It turned out to be his last.

Henry Raeburn's (and his parents') grave in Mortonhall, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Morton Hall Cemetery, Edinburgh.

On 31 January 1979, Raeburn wrote to Margaret Doughty, née McKechnie, in an ailing handwriting: "My Dear Margaret, Do please forgive me for never having written to you to acknowledge receipt of your lovely letter with all the nice compliments for the portrait of Kersten. It was grand to know it was so well liked: and I thank you for your cheque for £52.50p. in payment thereof. I am beginning to find life is getting a bit too hectic for me at my age, and I shall have to pack-up soon. It is a tremendous job for me to face – The giving up of this flat and all my work. I think the portrait of Kersten will be one of the very last I shall paint. Thank you again for your lovely letter & cheque. I hope we meet sometime soon. Love to you both. Raeburn. PS. I shall take your cheque to my bank today."[49]

Around 1980, Raeburn's mental health deteriorated dramatically. Baroness Van Houtte reports that Raeburn would visit her unannounced, while thinking he had an appointment.

The last time she saw him, he looked quite bewildered. Around that time, Margaret Doughty, née McKechnie met him a last time, walking on the Edinburgh streets. During the conversation, Margaret realised he did not know who she was and that he had very much mentally declined.

Shortly after the completion of the portrait of Kirsten Doughty (1980), Raeburn left his flat on the border of Georgian Edinburgh for "The Elms", a nursing home outside the city centre, run by the Church of Scotland.

He stayed there for several years, until he moved in his last days to Grange Care, a private nursing home for the incapacitated elderly, at 8, Chalmers Crescent.[50] There, he died on 22 May 1985 at 21.40 hours of a stroke (cerebrovascular accident).[51]

His remains were cremated and his ashes were adjoined to the grave of his parents, Henry John Dobson and Jeanie Cowan in Mortonhall Cemetery, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.[52]

Reaburn did not have any children. He left a testament, leaving his few goods mainly to Evelyn and some friends, while his house was sold to cover his debts and cremation. In his will he did not leave any notice about the future copyright of his paintings.


Getting an accurate picture of Henry Raeburn Dobson's character is quite difficult, because there are hardly any written testimonies on his life. He never got a real formal artistic education. He was not an intellectual man, but a craftsman. He never advocated big theories on art. He wrote few letters. He hardly ever spoke about his private life, either to strangers, or to family.[53]

He gave few interviews and was only mentioned in the newspapers a few times. Therefore, we have to rely on interviews with people who have known him a little better: close relatives, friends and clients. Raeburn seems to have been a warm, friendly and cheerful man and was quite an outgoing person. He attended many official functions and private parties in high society (parties in the entourage of HRH Princess Margaret, of Princess de Ligne, of Baroness Van Houtte a.s.o.). He was very entertaining and always in good spirits. He was a well-liked houseguest. People began to know him as a public figure and with him, his art. The post-War years until the beginning of the 1970s were his most successful time. His reputation was established as one of the best portrait painters of Edinburgh by word of mouth and was asked to paint portraits of many members of high society.

Raeburn was an elegant man, well spoken and well educated; loved by the female sex. He indeed loved to paint pretty and elegant ladies, but did not care very much for the social background of his sitters while painting. Although he was some sort of a socialite. He seems to have preferred the companionship of women to the friendship with men. For children he was a true entertainer: by impersonating different characters and performing magical tricks,[54] he would catch their attention during long sessions of portraiture.

His Scottish origins were essential to him. Abroad and in Scotland, he was proud to wear his kilt.[55] and his typical chequered waistcoat, all year round.

He was not interested in money, but painted for the love of his art. Although he had many commissions and was regarded as Edinburgh's best portrait painter, he mostly lived from hand to mouth or from commission to commission. It must be stated that, while his brother Cowan had the benefits from the commercial talents of his wife, Phyllis Bowyer, Raeburn could rely on anybody to promote him or his talents. In addition to his quite casual lifestyle, Raeburn refused to have anything to do with the art-establishment in Edinburgh. Although he had been influenced by the Modern Movement, through his art teacher Ralph Hay, he refused to conform to the later emerging Modernist Movement, while the backbench politics of the Royal Scottish Academy made him rebel even more against this closed circle of painters.

Behind this seemingly 'happy' man, lay in fact a quite self-cantered character, who took notice of the needs of his surroundings to a rather limited degree. Although he was briefly married to Isabella Rae and had a companion in Evelyn Wight, he lived the life of a bachelor. He would leave Edinburgh for months, going abroad and leaving Evelyn behind. Although Evelyn and Raeburn had a very deep friendship for over 35 years, he never proposed to marry.[56] It is said that one could see the sorrow in her eyes, because of this neglect.

Painting techniqueEdit

Raeburn used often cheaper materials, which he bought at the art shop of John Mathieson and at Aitkin Dott Galleries (in Fredrick Street) in Edinburgh. His canvas consisted mostly of industrial prepared thin linen, with a thin layer of grounding (singled primed), prepared by "Winsor and Newton Ltd., London" or by "Robertson & Co. Ltd., London".

The canvasses were nailed onto the frames with small black head nails. Raeburn used industrial prepared but stable paint (Winton), which has kept its original colour. He always used bright and lively colours and used light impastos to represent fabrics. He was a master in painting hands (the most difficult part of a portrait).

His varnish technique was far from good. It seems he varnished his paintings while they were still on the easel, instead of lying down. This made the varnish dripping down and be unevenly spread over the painting, resulting in areas of high reflection, followed by matt areas. However, the different patches in the reflection of the varnish also indicates that Raeburn did not only varnish his paintings vertically, but that in addition, he let his paintings dry for a too short while, before varnishing them. Because of the different drying times of oil paints, this meant that the varnish did not dry evenly (polymerisation). The varnish (Damart) seems in all paintings to be quite stable.

Most of the portraits are still in a good state, although most of the canvasses were not properly stretched onto their frames (2004–2009).


The work of Raeburn Dobson stretches over a period of about 60 years. He tried to make the British capital his home.

However, Scotland was always closer to his heart.[citation needed] Eventually he returned to live and work in Edinburgh. There, although he tried to ignore the modernist movement of his time, he went his own way and became one of the leading portrait painters in the Scottish capital.[citation needed]

His heyday was from the 1950 until early 1970. As a portrait painter, he was not only highly regarded by members of the aristocracy, but also by the clergy, scientists, writers, entertainers, physicians, the constabulary,[57] and ordinary members of the general public.

His wartime experience brought him to Belgium, where he became 'the' portrait painter of an exclusive aristocratic circle. To his Belgian friends, he was the epitome of the Scotsman: friendly, elegant, well educated, and fun to be with and always wearing a kilt.

He was very reserved and hardly ever spoke about his private life or about his paintings.[citation needed]

His work consisted for the major part of portraits. Like his father, he also painted some watercolours and genre paintings. However, the quality of these genre paintings (unlike with his father) never reached the same quality of his portraits and can be considered as rather by-products.

When Henry Raeburn came to Belgium in 1945, his art of portraiture was already relegated to the past, redeemed as "passé", as "boardroom painting" or as "commercial painting"; and himself redeemed as being a mere "society painter".

When all of this may be true, even so, Henry Raeburn left us[who?] with some astonishing portraits: the portraits of Baroness Cécile Van Houtte and of Monsieur André Pirmez, the portraits of Richard Durand Trotter and of Dr. James Charles Thomson and the portraits of Dr. Andrew Rae Gilchrist and of Kevin Connolly are fine examples of his post-war production.

While the colour scheme reflects hardly ever the character of his sitter, it does reflect the painter's influence by Modernism and the Colourists. In many ways his portraits are very conservative, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. But with his post-war period, when he starts to use rougher brush strokes and brighter colours, Raeburn really tries to bridge the Old (Victorian tradition) with the New (the Colourist Movement).

Through his paintings one may also spot Raeburn's interest in the sitter. One may say he probably had more pleasure in painting pretty and elegant woman, like Baroness Van Houtte, Baroness Velge, Countess d'Oultremont, or Mrs. McHardy and the Lady with White Pearls. However, he also enjoyed painting men in uniform, especially Scottish uniforms or in men Clan dresses.

On the contrary, painting "head-to-waist" portraits (especially of boardroom executives) must have bored him terribly.[citation needed] These paintings seem to have been finished very quickly and – most probably – were a welcome addition to his daily bread. It seems that he paid more attention to the paintings of the aristocracy and to those of his own friends and family, than to the ordinary executive. Dobson had great trouble to put an element of fascination in these portraits.[citation needed]

Although Raeburn did not seem to have had the means to lead the high-life, he certainly did everything to approach himself as close to it as possible. In London this meant moving around in fashionable places to be amongst potential clientele. Even in Brussels the painter would move around in the upper classes. But, there he got himself a studio in a not so well-to-do are of the Belgian capital, at the Place des Barricades, above a 'bistro'.

When the jet-set did not want to take their way to the painter's studio, Raeburn had no reluctance to go and stay at the private homes and castles of his clients. He stayed an extensive time at Baron Velge's residence, with Mrs. Jadot, with Viscount Le Hardÿ de Beaulieu, with Baron Etienne della Faille d'Huysse and in Scotland with the Marquess of Huntly. And with many more sitters.

Raeburn did not get on very well with the art-establishment in Edinburgh. Although influenced by the 'Colourists', he refused to conform to the Modernist movement, while the politics of the Royal Academy made him rebel even more against this closed circle. Although he would stay faithful to traditional portraiture, he could not ignore this 'Colourist' Movement. One may note this Modernist influence of the 'Colourists' in his very colourful palette and contrasting colours. He must have been well informed about the philosophy and the work of this movement through a very good female friend in these circles.

His portraits are always faithful representations of the sitters.[citation needed] It is astonishing[according to whom?] that after so many years, many of the portraits still resemble the sitters. But, sometimes he embellishes the sitter by adding some mannerist hands. Fascinated by hands (which is the most difficult part of a portrait), he always included some hands into a portrait (when possible). But, generally they do not represent the hands of the sitter. They are – especially with woman portraits – a mannerist way to add more grace and elegance to the sitter. Baroness Van Houtte's and Baroness Velge's hands are indeed stockier than the hands Raeburn painted, while the position of the hand of Countess de Liedekerke is anatomically quite impossible, as are the hands of Countess d'Oultremont. One notices the elongated fingers in the portraits of Baroness Van Houtte, Countess d'Oultremont and Countess de Liedekerke.[citation needed]

While Raeburn's production is amazing,[according to whom?] not all of his paintings are of the same quality. He had great trouble with painting group portraits and the perspectives are not always correct. This may well be because Raeburn was never trained academically. But, in the end, Raeburn Dobson remains one of Edinburgh's best portrait painters of the middle of the twentieth century.

Index of portraitsEdit

Photographs of these portraits are to be found in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

1. Dated and verified Portraits of which the Sitters are known.[58]
Portrait of Sir Richard Arman Gregory (1864–1952), scientist, Oil on Canvas, 76.8 cm x 63.9 cm, Signed "Raeburn Dobson", dated on the reverse 1929.
Portrait of Christiane Leslie, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1930s. The reverse mentions that the painting was 91.44 cm x 71.12 cm and was Oil on Canvas.
Portrait of D. Brodie McDonald in Kilt, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1930–1932.
Portrait of Cpt. J. McK-McKernell-Brown, "An Gaidheal Gorm", Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1933.
Portrait of Lt.-Col. W.B.J. Osbaldeston-Mitford, in Gordon Highlander dress, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1934[59]
Portrait of Robert Walpole, 9th Baron Walpole and 7th Lord Walpole of Wolterton (1913–1989), son of Horatio Spencer Walpole (1881–1918), Oil on Canvas, 100 cm x 75 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1935–1936.
Portrait of the Hon. Pamela Walpole (1908–1986), M.B.E., daughter of Horatio Spencer Walpole (1881–1918), 7th and 9th baron Walpole, Oil on Canvas, 100 cm x 75 cm, Signed "H. Raeburn Dobson", c. 1935–1936
Portrait of the young Douglas Morpeth (°1924),[60] aged 12, in the Kilt of the MacKie Clan, Oil on Canvas, 160 cm x 100 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1936
Portrait of Lieutenant General Air Vice Marshal His Highness Maharaja Umaid Singh (1903–1947) (full), Oil on Canvas, lifesize, c. 1937. Coll.of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, India.
Portrait of the young Douglas Morpeth (°1924)[61] aged 12, in the uniform of Hillsborough Prep School, Oil on Canvas, 97 cm x 76.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1937.
Portrait of Cameron Morpeth (°1927), aged 10, Oil on canvas, 127 cm x 80.2 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1937.
Portrait of D.B. McDonald, Esq., Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1937.
Portrait of Alan Sutherland (°1931) as a Loretto Nipper, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1940.
Portrait of Louisa Rankin Morpeth, née Dobson (c. 1896), sister of Henry Raeburn, Oil on Canvas, 44.7 cm x 34.5 cm, c. before 1940.
Portrait of David Williams (AKA Dave Willis) (1895–1973), comedian, Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 50.6 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1940.
Portrait of Lady Baird, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H. Raeburn Dobson", c. 1940.
Portrait of Stroma Sutherland, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1940.
Portrait of an A.R.P. Warden from Kensington, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1940.
Portrait of Janette Dobson (°1937), Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1941–1942.
Portrait of William Sharpe Dobson III (°1934), Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1942
Portrait of 7/Lt. Don Irvindale, "Our Catering Type", Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1945.
Portrait of Louisa Rankin Morpeth, née Dobson (°1896), sister of Henry Raeburn, Oil on Canvas, 44.7 cm x 34.5 cm, c. 1946.
Portrait of Andrew Blackwood Dobson (°1941), Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm., Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1946–1947.
Portrait of Baron Henry Carton de Tournai (1878–1969), Oïl on Canevas, 80 cm x 65 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1946–1947.
Portrait of Douglas Charles Lindsey Gordon (°1908), 12th Marquess of Huntly and Premier Marquess of Scotland in full highland dress, Oil on Canvas, 110.5 cm x 85.05 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1946–1947
Portrait of Baroness Magdeleine Carton de Tournai (1916–2001), sister of Baron Michel Carton de Tournai, Oil on Canvas, 80 cm x 65 cm, signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1948–1949.
Portrait of Baron Jean Van Houtte (1907–1991), Prime Minister of Belgium, Finance Minister, President of Sabena Airlines, Oil on Canvas, 110 cm x 80 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1949.
Portrait of Mr. Cameron Morpeth (°1927), Oil on Canvas, 59.6 cm x 49.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c.1949.
Portrait of Dr. James Charles Thomson (1887–1960), Oil on Canvas, 136 cm x 99 cm, signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1949–1950.
Portrait of Lady Anne Morpeth (°1928), née Bell, wife of Sir Douglas Morpeth, Oil on Canvas, 51 cm x 63 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1950.
Portrait of Robert Spottiswoode Morpeth (1894–1979), father of Sir Douglas Morpeth, Oil on Canvas, 90 cm x 70 cm, Signed "Raeburn Dobson", c. 1950.
Portrait of Baroness Cécile Van Houtte (°1908), née de Stella, Oil on Canvas, 110 cm x 80 cm, signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1953.
Portrait of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Bishop Harold William Bradfield (Bishop 1946–1960), Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1954. There are two inscriptions on the back: Along middle stretcher, in ink: "The Rt Rev.The Lord Bishop of Bath & Wells Original Painting by H Raeburn Dobson. R.C.A.September 1954. Edinburgh". On top stretcher, right-hand side, in pencil: "H Raeburn Dobson Liberal Club Edinburgh".
Portrait of Count Charles de Liedekerke (1897–1965), Oil on Canvas, 92 cm x 70 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", dated 1954.
Portrait of Countess Madeleine de Liedekerke (1903–1980), née Baroness Bekaert, Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1954–1955
First version of the Portrait of Count Charles-Emile Antoine d'Oultremont (°1915), Oil on Canvas, 87 cm x 64 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1955.
Second version of the Portrait of Count Charles-Emile Antoine d'Oultremont (°1915), Oil on Canvas, 80 cm x 64 cm, not signed, c. 1955.
Portrait of Countess Béatrice d'Oultremont, née Baroness van der Straten Waillet (°1920), Oil on Canvas, 80 cm x 64 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1955.
Portrait of Kevin Connolly of Edinburgh, Oil on Canvas, 110 cm x 80 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1955–1960.
Second version of the portrait of Kevin Connolly of Edinburgh, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1955–1960.
Portrait of Mrs. Margaret Doughty (°1947), née McKechnie, Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm, signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1956.
Portrait of Stewart McKechnie (°1944) as a Watson's Boy, Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1956.
Portrait of a Belgian Business Man, Oil on Canvas, measurements unknown, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1956.
Portrait of Baron Jean-Charles Velge (°1930), Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1956–1957
Portrait of a Lady with White Pearls (sitter unknown), Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 60.96 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1955.
Portrait of Dr. Sir Stanley Davidson, M.D., (1894–1981), Haematologist, President of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Infirmary, Oil on Canvas, 89 cm x 69 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1957
Portrait of Count Etienne della Faille d'Huysse (°1892), Oil on Canvas, 90 cm x 70 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1957.
Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Massange de Collombs, née della Faille d'Huysse (°1935), Oil on Canvas, 49 cm x 39 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1957–1958.
Portrait of Mrs. Thérèse De Smet, née Van Houtte (°1935), daughter of Baron and Baroness Jean Van Houtte, Oil on Canvas, 68 cm x 60 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1958.
Portrait of Mrs. Anne-Elisabeth De Bandt (°1938), née Van Houtte, daughter of Baron and Baroness Jean Van Houtte, Oil on Canvas,68 cm x 60 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1958.
Portrait of Viscount Jean-Pierre Le Hardÿ de Beaulieu (°1926) and his family, Oil on Canvas, 78 cm x 62 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1959.
Portrait of Viscount Jean le Hardÿ de Beaulieu (°1890), father of Viscount Jean-Pierre Le Hardÿ de Beaulieu, Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1959.
Portrait of Viscount Philippe Le Hardy de Beaulieu (°1921), Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1959.
Portrait of Princess Albert-Eduard de Ligne, née de Lambertye, (Gerbevillers, France), Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1959–1960.
Portrait of Dr. Andrew Rae Gilchrist, M.D., (°1899), Cardiologist, President of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Oil on Canvas, 89 cm x 69 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1960.
Second (copy by Raeburn himself of the) Portrait of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Bishop Harold William Bradfield (Bishop 1946–1960), Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1960–61.
Portrait of Count Wenceslas de 't Serclaes (°1924), Oil on Canvas,80 cm x 70 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1960–1965.
Portrait of Miss Jean C. Milligan, Co-Founder and Chairwoman of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Oil on Canvas, 89.5 cm x 69 cm, c. 1961.
Portrait of Mr. André Pirmez, Esq. (°1922), son of Baron Herman Pirmez and Baroness Emilie del Marmol, Oil on Canvas, 76 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1962–1965.
Portrait of Baroness Marie-Louise Velge, née Van Houtte, Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1963
Portrait of Mr. Donald Fortune, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1963.
Portrait of Mrs. Fortune, mother of Donald Fortune, Oil on 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1963.
Portrait of Mr. McHardy(°1920), Oil on Canvas, 107 cm x 87 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1964.
Portrait of Mrs. Charlie McHardy (°1928), Oil on Canvas, 108 cm x 89 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1964.
Portrait of Sir John Dutton Clerk, 10th Baronet and Lady Clerk of Penicuik, Oil on Canvas, 111 cm x 86.4 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1965.
Second version of the portrait of Sir John Dutton (10th Bt) and Lady Clerk of Penicuik, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1965.
Portrait of Madame Jacqueline Pirmez, née Bekaert, Oil on Canvas, 76 cm x 63.5 cm, c. 1965
Portrait of Madame Isabelle Jadot (°1928), née Velge, Oil on Canvas, 70 cm x 55 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1965.
Portrait of Helen Finlayson (°1944), née McKechnie, Oil on Canvas, 50.5 cm x 61 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1965.
Portrait of Ian Morpeth (°1953) as a Fettes College Boy, son of Sir Douglas Morpeth, Oil on Canvas, 51 cm x 40.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1969–1970.
Portrait of Christophe Velge (°1963), as child, son of Baron Jean-Jacques Velge,Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 50 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1965.
Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Graham Watson and family, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1966. (This Graham Watson is not related to the English LibDem MEP.)
Portrait of Charles Robert Dobson Morpeth (°1960), as child, son of Cameron Morpeth, Oil on Canvas, 91.5 cm x 87.6 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1970.
Portrait of Robin Law] Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1970.
Portrait of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh Sir Herbert Archbold Brechin, Oil on Canvas, measurements unknown, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1971.
Group Portrait of the Children Morpeth, Oil on Canvas, 76 cm x 91.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1972.
Portrait of Dr. Anne Cameron Robbins, M.D., née Gauld (°1951), daughter of Dr. John Gauld, M.D., Oil on Canvas, 63 cm x 76 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", February 1972
Unfinished Portrait of Mr. Philippe Jadot (°1929), Oil on Canvas, 100 cm x 76 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1974.
Portrait of R.A. Smith, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1974.
Portrait of Mrs. Patricia Roxburgh, née Wilson (°1925), Canvas on Oil,48.2 cm x 38.1 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", c. 1975
Portrait of Mr. Carmichael, Canvas on Oil, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1976.
Portrait of Michael Barker, Oil on Canvas, 60 cm x 70 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1976.
2. Verified Portraits which are not dated but of which the sitters are known.[62]
Portrait of David Cowan Dobson, Raeburn's brother, Oil on Canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Evelyn Agnes Mark Wight (1900–1985), Raeburn's lifetime companion, Oil on Canvas, 76 cm x 64 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Jeannie Charlotte Hannah Cowan, mother of Raeburn, Oil on Canvas, measurements unknown, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mrs. Wishart, Edinburgh, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 cm x 63.5 cm; Signed "H Raeburn Dobson" The identity of this Mrs. Wishart is not known. Her name was written on the reverse of a photograph of her portrait.
Portrait of Mrs. Richardson, Oil on Canvas, measurements unknown, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Alasdair Alpin MacGregor (1899–1970), Scottish photographer and writer, Oil on Canvas 76.20 x 63.50 cm, "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Richard Durand Trotter in suit, Oil on Canvas, 127 cm x 101.5 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson".[63]
Portrait of Richard Durand Trotter in military uniform, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Dr. D. Chambers of the Murray Royal Hospital in Perth, Scotland, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Ian McGregor Bazalgette (head to waist), Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portraitof Ian McGregor Bazalgette (full), in Kilt, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Irene McGregor, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of J. Riley Jones, Esq., Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of the Chief Constable of the Lothians and Peebles William Merrilees in full Highlander Dress, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"[64]
Portrait of Miss Jean Gray, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mrs. Alison Hunter, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Miss Sight, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mrs. Linscke Gumley, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mrs. Maude Belgarde of Dublin, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mrs. McGregor, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Sir Guy Patrick Gilbert Crofton, Bt., Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Sir John Ure Primrose, 3. Baronnet of Burnbrae (1908–1985), Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Sir William Watson, Oil on Canvas, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Rothesay Herald Lieutenant Colonel Harold Andrew Balvaird Lawson (Herald 1939–1981, +1985), Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Mr. William Alford of New-York, USA, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Willy Dugaugier, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of the Ballantyne Girls of Dunnesleithan (Ireland), Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of 'Mattie', Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Professor Gordon Donaldson (1913–1993) in Departmental Robes (head to waist), Scottish Historian, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson",
Portrait of King George VII (after a photograph), Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Admiral Sir Michael Denny, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"
Portrait of Ian Stewart Robertson 3/4 length seated, wearing a dress kilt and jacket., Oil on Canvas, 110 cm x 85 cm, signed "H. Raeburn Dobson"
3. Verified portraits which are not identified and cannot be dated[65]
twelve portraits (mostly) of business men (head to waist) are not identified and cannot be dated; of which a portrait (head to waist) of an oriental man and a man holding a gun.
three portraits woman (head to waist) are not identified and cannot be dated.
three portraits of children are not identified and cannot be dated; of which the "Portrait of a boy in a Navy Blue Sweater"(yellow background), Oil on Canvas, 60.96 cm x 50.8 cm, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson"

The boys in question are Malcolm (b. 1940), Nigel (1941–1947) and Douglas (b. 1944) Walker. The portraits were painted in Spring 1947 at a house in Pembroke Mews (or Walk), Kensington High Street. They remain in private hands

4.Known Portraits which have not been verified yet.[66]
Portrait of Countess Lippens (Knokke, Belgium).
Portrait of Mrs. Albert de Radzitsky (Brussels, Belgium).
Portrait (unfinished) of Mrs. Joanna Reid (Nan), (Edinburgh, Scotland).
Portrait of Sir Ian Colquhoun of Luss (Cumtradden House, Luss, Alexandria, Scotland)
Portrait of Baron Braun (Ghent, Belgium)
Portrait of Countess Boël (Belgium)
Portrait of Count Yves du Monceau (Belgium)
Portrait of Countess de Prêt (Belgium)


  1. ^ Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Register Office, Edinburgh, Deaths of 1985, District N° 746, entry N° 386
  2. ^ David Devereux, Niall Duncan, Glenken's History: a Dalry artist Henry John Dobson 1858–1928, in The Glenkens Gazette, s.d.,p.11. Christopher Newall, Margaret Richardson, Dictionary of British Art: Victorian Painters, Christopher Wood, Woodbridge,Suffolk, England, 1998, Vol. IV, 1. The Text, p.142, col 1. J. Johnson, A. Greutzner, Dictionary of British Art: British Artists 1880–1940, Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, 1999R, 149, col. 3.
  3. ^ Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Register Office, Edinburgh, Deaths of 1928, p. 152, entry 454.
  4. ^ a b Cabris, Eric (Spring 2009). "The life and work of Henry Raeburn Dobson (1901-85)". The British Art Journal. v.9, n.3: 69–78.
  5. ^ Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Register Office, Edinburgh, Marriages of 1890,p.3, entry 5
  6. ^ In some reference books, Henry John is stated to live at 5, Merchiston Place !
  7. ^ a b Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Register Office, Edinburgh, Census of 1901, p. 3, Civil Parish of Edinburgh, Burgh Ward of Merchiston
  8. ^ David Devereux, Niall Duncan, Glenken's History: a Dalry artist Henry John Dobson 1858–1928, in : The Glenkens Gazette, p.11
  9. ^ James Gillespie's High School, roll books 1897–1917: Raeburn was enrolled as reference 4443 and Louie as reference 3751
  10. ^ George Watson's College, Edinburgh, rollbook 1911
  11. ^ The records of George Watson's College do not mention to which Art College Raeburn went
  12. ^ Ralph William Hay was born 7 November 1877 in Edinburgh and attended Gray's School of Art in 1895. From 1895 to 1900 he went to the Aberdeen School of Design. From 1900 to 1902 he was in London at the School of Arts and Crafts. He taught drawing and modelling firstly in "The Institution for the Deaf and Dumb". This is now known in Edinburgh as "Donaldson's College for the Deaf". He returned to Gray's School of Art to teach design from 1907 to 1908 and entered George Watson's Boys' College in 1908 as drawing teacher. He remained at the College, becoming Head of Department until his death on 10 March 1943.
  13. ^ The Watsonian, July 1943, p.52.
  14. ^ Probably because his parents were on a business trip to the United States and Canada, looking for commissions. In a biography of Henry John, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery mentions that Henry John went to the USA and Canada in 1911 (http://www.nationalgalleries.org, PG 1580)
  15. ^ According to the Principal Librarian of the E.C.A., Dobson came to the College in 1917 at the age of 16 for one year only. He must have only completed the first year and did not return. He passed all his subjects with no other comments on his sheet. It therefore seems that Dobson's attendance at the College was for a very short time and little record of his attainments remains.
  16. ^ Air Ministry Form, 1406, dd. 22 September 1943, registration n° 145890
  17. ^ In 1943 Henry Raeburn was written off the list of members of the Society, but was re-elected in 1958. Because he hardly ever presented works for exhibitions of the Society (he sent some works for the exhibitions of 1958 and 1960 only), the Society finally wrote him off in 1964. His main reason for not submitting works was the distance between Edinburgh and the Society in Conway, Wales: " I am essentially a portrait painter, and as most of my work is commissioned it is not always possible to have work on hand for exhibition, especially living as I do at this distance from the Cambrian Academy.", Raeburn wrote in a protest letter, dated 17 April 1964. The letter mentions that his father was 20 years or more member of the R.C.A.
  18. ^ Peter J.M. McEwan, Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture, Antique Collector's Club, 1994, p. 172.; Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1908–1970, p.173. The Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts 1861–1989, The Woodend Press, 1990,p.360.; Scottish Royal Academy Exhibitors 1826–1990, p. 421
  19. ^ Mathieson was an art dealer and collector in Edinburgh !
  20. ^ After his return to Edinburgh, Raeburn's mother went to live with her daughter Louie in London
  21. ^ The old Club in Princess Street housed not only a proper 'club' area, but also different living quarters, which were rented out. The tenants would have breakfast and dinner in the 'club' dining room
  22. ^ Archives of the Scottish Country Dance Society, Edinburgh, Letter from the Secretary to H. Raeburn Dobson, Esq., 5, Fettes Row, Edinburgh, 3. This letter proves that Raeburn already owned Fettes Row in 1961 when he had the address at the Scottish Liberal Club
  23. ^ Imperial War Museum Archives, cat. ART/WA1/99/120, dd. 26.10.1918–08.11.1938. Cowan Dobson painted 3 portraits of R.A.F. V.C.'s for the R.A.F. Section of the Imperial War Museum in London : Lt. Col. L.W. Brabazon Rees, Sgt Mottershead and Flight Lt.A.W. Beauchamps-Proctor.
  24. ^ A picture published in The Illustrated Weekly of India after 2 May 1937 represents Raeburn before the painting, ref. British Library, London, Newspaper Section, MC 1167, POS 109, Reel January to March 1937, dd. 2 May. 1937, p.23 and Reel April to June 1937, p.23 and May 23.1937, p22)
  25. ^ The General Register Office London, district of Kensington, Marriages of 1939, act n° 196, dd. 19 January 1939. Isabella was 24 years of age, while Raeburn was 37. Both partners were not married. Her father was already deceased. Raeburn lived at 20, Cranley Place,London S.W.7, while Isabella, or Isobel (as she was known to friends), resided at 85, Warwick Road, London S.W.5.
  26. ^ Statutory Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths at www.scotlandspeole.gov.uk. Her father was born as Hugh Smith Dawson. Smith was the surname of his mother, Isabella Smith, married to Christopher Dawson in Muiravonside on 15 December 1890. Christopher's parents were Peter Dawson and Margaret Vicars, married in Tillicoultry on 14 October 1861. Peter's parents were Thomas Dawson and Helena Milsoud. Thomas was a collier, Peter a coalminer and Christopher a labourer. Isabella's mother was Elizabeth Binnie, born 1887/1888, daughter of William Binnie (labourer) and Annie Philips.
  27. ^ RAF Form 543A, File n° 1649002, dd. 1 November 1942. His cousins once removed were not aware of this marriage, while other acquaintances only suspected that Raeburn might have been married (interview with Helen McKechnie). His nephews knew Isabella Rae and liked her very much. In the family, it is said that the marriage was annulled, because Isabella Rae was already married to an Indian student in medicine at the Edinburgh University. No records of such a marriage were found, not in England and Wales, nor in Scotland.
  28. ^ Prior to 1984, there is no central register of divorces and annulments for Scotland. It is therefore nearly impossible to verify if such an Act was passed in Scotland, without knowing the exact location and court. It is possible that Isabella had been married in Scotland between 1930 and 1940. These records are not public yet
  29. ^ a b RAF Form 543A, File n° 1649002, dd. 1 November 1942.
  30. ^ RAF Form 543A, File n° 1649002, dd. 1 November 1942. It is also recorded that he had a scar on the left knee and a vaccination mark on the left limb.
  31. ^ RAF Form 543A, File n° 1649002, dd. 1 November 1942
  32. ^ Letter of Raeburn to his sister Louie, dd. 4.08. (1945?). The letter bears no year, but is probably written in 1945. His address states: c/o Air Marshall Sir Arthur Coningham, 87 Group, Paris. This could mean that Raeburn was one of the Photographers Interpreters who – in early in 1945 – were sent to join the British Bombing Research Mission in Paris to explore the degree of damage and production interruption caused by Allied bombing in the Resistance areas of the Central Massif and in the ports. From Paris he might have been sent to Brussels
  33. ^ idem
  34. ^ Letter by Andrew Blackwood Dobson, dd. 19 August 2004; Raeburn did certainly not follow behind the frontlines. He was too busy painting portraits of army officers and attending parties
  35. ^ Letter by Andrew Njal Dobson, dd. 27 February 2004.
  36. ^ The Times, n° 49922, dd. 31 July 1944, p.7, col. 1, § 3: DEATHS: "DOBSON- In July, 1944, through enemy action HENRY RAEBURN DOBSON, youngest son of Mrs. J.H.C. Dobson, late of Kensington, in his 43rd year. Cremation private".
  37. ^ The Times, n° 49928, dd. 7 August 1944, p.7, col. 4, §6.
  38. ^ Entry in a Register of Births, Scotland, Year 1900, Births in the District of Newington in the city of Edinburgh, n° 976, dd. 26 July 1900.
  39. ^ Entry in a Register of Death, Scotland, Year 1985, Entry n° 295, District of Morningdale n° 744, dd. 2 April 1985 at 21.30 hrs. Evelyn was a former Clerk (as was her father) and was single when she passed away. The National Archives of Scotland, Registrar House, Edinburgh, Commissary Court Index, SC70/17/44, frame 71, pp. 224–235; with an addendum : Commissary Court Index, SC70/17/46, frame 107.
  40. ^ Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1908–1970, p. 173. At the Royal Scottish Academy, archives of exhibitors are rarely kept. No further detailed information about Raeburn is known to the Academy.
  41. ^ The Scottish Liberal Club was situated at 109 Princess Street, ref. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
  42. ^ Portrait of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Bishop Harold William Bradfield (1946–1960)110, Signed "H Raeburn Dobson", 1954. Episcopal Collection, City of Wells, Somerset, England. This is the original version of the portrait. There are two inscriptions on the back: Along middle stretcher, in ink: "THE RT REV. THE LORD BISHOP OF BATH & WELLS ORIGINAL PAINTING BY H RAEBURN DOBSON. R.C.A. SEPTEMBER 1954. EDINBURGH". On top stretcher, right-hand side, in pencil: "H RAEBURN DOBSON LIBERAL CLUB EDINBURGH".
  43. ^ This building comprises two parts: a Georgian cottage on the Polton Bank, Lasswade roadside (known today as "De Quincey Cottage", after the Scottish prose writer Thomas de Quincey [1785–1859] who lived there from about 1840 until 1855) and an adjoining dwelling at the rear side. This originally served as the lodge and coach house at the drive entrance to the main house, "Priorwood House" further into the grounds (in Raeburn's time known as "Mavisbush House") and has its entry on the drive way to Priorwood House
  44. ^ Letter by Andrew Njal Dobson dd. 27 February 2004 : "…Mavisbush Lodge was semi-detached with DeQuincey Cottage, which was owned by a Doctor Campbell, whose son is still a GP in Loanhead. Dad had a large North Facing window/dormer built in the attic room, which Raeburn then used as his studio. DeQuincey Cottage was so named as the poet of the same name had lived there at some time. I well recall meeting many of the great and the good who came to have their portraits painted, in particular Herbie Brechin, Lord Provost, who had a light blue Jaguar XJ6 that thrilled us boys and intrigued with its twin fuel tanks! And Chief Constable Willie Merrilees who was chauffeur driven by a police driver. Sir John Clerk of Penicuik had a family portrait painted by Raeburn. …"
  45. ^ According to a letter from the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, dated 20.March 1961, in which the Society commissions the portrait of Miss Milligan, Raeburn already lived (and maybe owned) '5, Fettes Row' in that year (Archives of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Edinburgh, Letter of the Secretary to Dobson, dd. 20 March 1961); as does the last will of Evelyn Wight (The National Archives of Scotland, Registrar House, Edinburgh, Commissary Court Index, SC70/17/44, frame 71, pp. 224–235; with an addendum : Commissary Court Index, SC70/17/46, frame 107).
  46. ^ Letter of Raeburn to his sister Louie, dd. 4.08. (1945?). The letter bears no year, but is probably written in 1945. His address states : c/o Air Marshall Sir Arthur Coningham, 87 Group, Paris. And, as said before: he was only demobilized in February 1946.
  47. ^ a b c Letter of Raeburn to his mother, dd. 11 April 1946, p.1.
  48. ^ A relative of the Minister of the Colonies, Baron H. Carton de Tournai, was sent in 1961 to Raeburn's care in Edinburgh, who – because of lack of space – lodged the young man with the family of his cousins Bill, Janette and Andrew Blackwood. The three siblings remember the young man being glued to the television, following the news about the independence of Belgian Congo.
  49. ^ Letter by Henry Raeburn Dobson to Margaret Doughty, née McKechnie, dd. "5, Fettes Row, Edinburgh, 31 January 1979"
  50. ^ Raeburn needed special care, because he became demented and suffered of severe delusions,). Evelyn could not take care of Raeburn, because she herself was sick and suffered from dementia
  51. ^ Mortonhall, Liberton, Edinburgh, Register of Interments 1928 (Letter M-P), p. 37, Grave Number M 290.
  52. ^ Grave Number M 290
  53. ^ Letter of Mrs. Roxburgh, née Wilson, dd. 6 May 2006: "…Cowan was quite a different character from Raeburn. More outgoing and flamboyant. Dear Raeburn, as you probably know, was more introspective and quieter. A lovely man...."
  54. ^ His brother Cowan was member of the Magic Circle in London and Raeburn might have learned these tricks from his brother
  55. ^ Letter of Mrs. Patricia Roxburgh, née Wilson, dd. 6 May 2006: "…Raeburn was always in a kilt. I never saw him in trousers!"
  56. ^ Raeburn never filed for a divorce from Isabella Rae, nor was the marriage annulled. Therefore he was legally not able to marry another woman
  57. ^ He was indeed befriended with the famous Chief Constable of the Lothian and Peebles Constabulary William Merrilees (who wrote The Short Arm of the Law, John Long Ltd, London, 1966) and painted two portraits of him. On the reverse of the portrait of Count Wenceslas de 'tSerclaes is a small thank-you card from the Chief Constable, attached to the frame. Count Wenceslas had met Merrilees in the 1960s in Brussels and when talking about Scotland realised Merrilees was friendly with Raeburn. The thank-you card represented the two photographs of Merrilees in disguise, as printed in his book on page 32.
  58. ^ These portraits have been researched by the author
  59. ^ This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy London in 1934, but was destroyed during a bomb attack in 1940. The archives of the R.A. confirm that the painting was indeed exhibited under Catalogue number 252108. William Bertram Joseph Mitford was commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders 18 October 1899 from the Militia. There are no records of the Militia, but he was born 4 February 1877 so at 22 was older than most other officers at commissioning. He was with 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders in South Africa taking part in: a. Advance on Kimberley including action at Magersfontein; b.Operations in Orange Free State Feb – May 1900 including operation at Paardeburg 17–26 February where he was wounded; c. Operations in Transvaal – east of Pretoria – 29 July November 1900; d. Operations in Cape Colony, south of Orange River 1899–1900; e. Operations in Cape Colony, north of Orange River, f. Operations in Transvaal 30 November 1900 – March 1901 and October 1901 – 31 May 1902; g. Operations in Orange River Colony April – July 1901; h. Operations in Cape Colony March – April 1901 and August – October 1901. Wounded 28 May 1901. At Paardeburg he was in C Company with Lachlan Gordon Duff Commissioned at the same time. Copy of the action attached showing Mitford as being wounded (being sent in post). On 3 March 1901 with 30 men he joined a company which retrained as Mounted Infantry. He served as Adjutant in a Volunteer Regiment in 1906., presumably a Gordon Highlander one. He was promoted Captain in August 1906 and was with 1st Gordons at the start of the 1914–1918 war and was in 2nd Battalion by December 1914. Promoted Major 1 September 1915. In October 1917 he was with 2nd/4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders and then back to 1st Battalion being promoted Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in April 1917. He is still in the Army in 1920 but has gone by 1926 according to the Army Lists. Next he is mentioned in the British Embassy Moscow in 1930 . He is listed in the Regimental Association as Lieutenant Colonel Osbaldeston Mitford but this could be a retired rank. Why he changed his name is not known (Archives of the Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland).
  60. ^ Douglas Morpeth (born 6 June 1924 in Perth, Scotland) is a British accountant. He was born the elder son of Robert and Louise Morpeth. His maternal grandfather was the rather unsuccessful Henry John Dobson, a Scottish portrait and genre painter. Educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh. He served in the Royal Artillery in India, Burma and Malay., He attended Edinburgh University from 1947 to 1949. Married Anne Rutherford Bell in 1951.
  61. ^ see footnote 59
  62. ^ Many of these portraits are only known through the large collection of photographs of his paintings. Raeburn had his portraits photographed before they were sent to their commissioners
  63. ^ The reverse of the portrait states: "Presentation Portrait. R.D. Trotter, Esq. Chairman of the Alliance Insurance Com.". Trotter was also involved with the Coal Industry Nationalization Act of 1946.
  64. ^ http://www.merrileesclan.org.nz Abridged Readers Digest article.
  65. ^ Photographs of these portraits can be found in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, London
  66. ^ This list is derived from a calculation notice of Raeburn, stating the names of the sitters and the price of each portrait


  • E. BENEZIT, Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, Librairie Gründ, Saint-Ouen, 1966.
  • D.BUCKMAN, The Dictionary of Artists in Britain Since 1945, Art Dictionaries ltd, Bristol, 1998.
  • Dr. Eric M.J. CABRIS, The Life and Work of Henry Raeburn Dobson in : The British Art Journal : The Research Journal of British Art Studies, volume IX, n°3, London, March 2009.
  • J. JOHNSON, A.GREUTZNER, British Artists 1880–1940, Volume V, Antique Collector's Club,Woolbridge 1999R.
  • N.P.G. (National Portrait Gallery), London, Primary Collection, n°5117.
  • National Portrait Gallery Scotland

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