Museum to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie and his exiled family to Highlands

A Highland museum is working to bring the exiled House of Stuart to Scotland.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart painted aged 16 by Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera is one of 13 portraits of members of the House of Stuart sought after by the West Highland Museum in Fort William. PIC: Contributed.

The West Highland Museum in Fort William has launched a campaign to secure a prestigious series of portraits of key members of the Stuart line to mark its 100th anniversary celebrations.

Among the paintings is a recently discovered portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart when he was 16. Also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, it is the only known portrait of the Jacobite leader that predates his 1745 rising and the slaughter at Culloden, the last battle fought in the campaign to return his family to the British throne.

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His father, James Francis Edward Stuart, son of deposed James VII, also features in the portrait series. He set sail from Scotland at Montrose following the failed 1715 rising, never to return.

James Francis Edward Stuart, father of Charles, painted by Alexis Simon Belle in 1712. PIC: Contributed.

James’ wife, Princess Clementina Sobieska – the mother of Charles - also features in the 13 royal portraits which the museum is working to secure on loan from Pininski Foundation in Liechtenstein. It is run by Peter Pininski, an art historian and distant descendant of Charles Edward Stuart on his mother’s side.

The museum said the series of 13 portraits which span four generations illustrated the family which inspired Jacobites to risk so much to pursue this “affair of the heart”.

Now, £25,000 needs to be raised to transport the collection for display next year.

Chris Robinson, museum director, said “We need your help in raising funds to make this happen and bring Bonnie Prince Charlie and the exiled Stuarts back to Scotland.

An elderly Prince Charles Edward Stuart painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton in 1786. PIC: Contributed.

"It will likely be the last time these iconic portraits will be displayed in the United Kingdom as they may soon be on permanent display at a European museum.”

The series also features a portrait of Charlotte the Duchess of Albany – Bonnie Prince Charlie’s daughter – and Princess Marie Victorie de Rohan, his granddaughter.

Broadcaster and Historian Paul Murton, from BBC Scotland’s Grand Tours of Scotland series, is backing the campaign and has produced a short film in support.

The paintings have never before been displayed together in the United Kingdom and some have never before been exhibited here.

Princess Clementina Sobieska, mother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, painted by William Mosman in 1733. PIC. Contributed.

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A portrait of an elderly Prince Charles Edward Stuart by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, which was painted in Rome in 1786, was last displayed in Scotland in Glasgow in 1910.

The portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie at 16 went on show at the National Museum of Scotland in 2019.

Vanessa Martin, curator at West Highland Museum, said: “The museum is world famous for its Jacobite exhibitions and has built up an important collection since the museum’s inception in 1922.

"In 1925 the museum held its first major public exhibition dedicated to the Jacobites and established itself as a Jacobite

Museum. The Jacobite Rising started here in Lochaber with Prince Charles Edward Stuart raising his father’s Standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August to signal the start of the last Jacobite Rising.

"For our centenary we have been offered this wonderful opportunity by the Pininski Foundation to present a public exhibition of rarely displayed royal portraiture.”

It is hoped the planned exhibition will draw Jacobite enthusiasts from around the world to Fort William.

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