A LONG-LOST portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the height of his powers has been discovered in Scotland by an art historian.
Painted in October 1745 by the celebrated Scottish artist Allan Ramsay at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, it shows a proud and determined 24-year-old prince who had just seized control of Scotland and was preparing to march south to regain the British throne for the Stuart dynasty.
It ends one of the greatest mysteries in British royal art: until the discovery, it had been believed no portrait of Charles Edward Stuart had been painted in Britain during his lifetime.
More than 250 years on, the painting has been found by Dr Bendor Grosvenor at Gosford House, home of the Earl of Wemyss in East Lothian. Dr Grosvenor previously shocked the art world when he exposed a painting of the prince hanging in the Scottish Portrait Gallery as being of the prince’s brother, Henry.
In the Ramsay painting, the prince is wearing the Order of the Garter, England’s highest order of chivalry, rather than Scotland’s Order of the Thistle.
It sent out the message he was an English prince taking the British throne and it was intended to distribute copies to supporters in London.
The prince took the artwork, measuring around 12in by 10in, with him when the Jacobite army marched south. But following the defeat at Culloden in 1746, it was too dangerous to display Jacobite sympathies and the painting disappeared.
Dr Grosvenor, who in 2009 debunked the earlier portrait – which had graced shortbread tins – said he wanted to make amends and followed a hunch the prince had been painted while in Scotland.
“Charles was always a bit of a hero of mine and I didn’t want him knocked off his post. The first clue was a letter sent to Ramsay by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s valet summoning him to paint the prince’s portrait which I found while rooting around the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.”
The letter, addressed to “Allan Ramsay, Painter” reads: “Sir, you are desired to come to the Palace of Holyroodhouse as soon as possible in order to take his Royal Highness’ picture. So I expect you’ll wait no further call. I am, your most humble servant, John Stuart, Holyrood House 26th of October 1745”.
Dr Grosvenor said: “I then moved the search to the National Portrait Gallery in London where there were boxes of photographs of paintings and it was while flicking through them that I spotted what I was certain was a Ramsay. It said on the back of the photo that it was at Gosford House.
“It was terrifically exciting, like bringing someone back to life. It is probably one of the key portraits of Scottish history.
“There are portraits of the prince as a young man in Italy or old and disillusioned, but none of the heroic prince,” said Dr Grosvenor, who appears on the BBC1 series Fake or Fortune?
“I went to Gosford House where the portrait had been hanging in a dark, downstairs corridor. It had always been known that it was Bonnie Prince Charlie but not known to have been painted by Ramsay in Scotland.” Dr Grosvenor added that Ramsay went on to become King George III’s official artist and the portrait of the Jacobite prince became his “guilty little secret”.
Dr Duncan Thomson, former director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and an expert on Ramsay, said: “This portrait brings the prince back to life in a way I’d never thought imaginable. It’s hard to overstate the importance of finding a portrait of the prince painted in Scotland by a Scottish artist.
A spokesman for Gosford House said: “We are currently in discussion as to where the portrait might be put on display at a future date.”
• The Lost Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Culture Show Special is on BBC2 at 9pm tonight