Bonnie Prince Charlie miniatures to go on display

The miniature portraits will be on display for the first time in Scotland. Picture: Contributed
The miniature portraits will be on display for the first time in Scotland. Picture: Contributed
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TINY portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother are to go on display in Scotland for the first time.

The National Galleries of Scotland has secured a loan of the miniature masterpieces just months after they were snapped up by a private collector for a sum believed to be in excess of £250,000.

Liotard made miraculous, detailed works on a miniature scale, and these refined Jacobite portraits are an especially welcome inclusion to the exhibition

Christopher Baker

The microscopically-detailed works of Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart were commissioned in 1737 by their exiled father, James Francis Edward Stuart, the “Old Pretender” of the Jacobite cause.

The little-known miniatures - depicting Henry, aged 12, and 16-year-old Charles - were created in the exiled Stuart court in Rome by 18th century Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard, who secured portrait work in royal courts across Europe.

Powerful imagery of the Stuarts was sent across Europe to help build support for the ill-fated Jacobite cause to reclaim the throne of England.

The miniatures, which measure just 7 x 5.5 cm, may have been part of a group sent to Vienna to be seen by Empress Elizabeth, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. The miniatures, sold in March at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht are thought to have always been in private hands.

They are going on display at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh from tomorrow until September as part of the first ever major celebration in the UK of the artist, who is described by experts there as “one of the greatest yet little-known artists of the 18th century.”

Christopher Baker, director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, said: “The princes formed part of the artist’s international clientele: he depicted royal, aristocratic and society figures with astonishing veracity and empathy. It was no surprise that he went to the exiled Stuart court in Rome and produced these exquisite objects.

“We became aware of the miniatures of the Jacobite princes as possible loans last year, when we heard that they were probably about to go on the market.

“It’s not unusual for this particular show that these miniatures have been in private collections since they were created. That was down to the nature of the way he worked and who his clientele were. He created intimate, private works.

“We are very lucky to have these miniatures in Edinburgh on loan from a private European collection. They are major things, but they have never been shown in Scotland before now.

“Liotard became renowned throughout his life for the precision and empathy of his portraits. These miniatures are incredibly detailed and he would have worked on them with the sitter in front of him.

“It was possible for other artists to create duplicates of them which would have been sent around Europe to other supporters and sympathisers of the Jacobites.”

More than 50 works drawn from collections around the world will be in the exhibition, which charts Liotard’s extensive career working in Amsterdam, The Hague, Venice, Rome and Naples. Other highlights of the exhibition include portraits of a teenage George, Prince of Wales, the future King George III and his young sister Princess Louisa Anne, which he created in 1754.

Mr Baker added: “We’ve been seriously looking at his work for quite a long time with the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where the show will be on later this year, to sort out the loans - the whole exhibition has taken around five years to put together.

“They key impetus for the show is that Liotard is an artist of extraordinary talent and skill, but is unknown in Britain, although he did depict a number of key and very interesting British sitters. We really wanted to put him back on the map.

“We really wanted to show the complete variety of his work. He was a brilliant technician, great at water colours, pastels, enamels, drawing and oil panting.”