Doubts over Skating Minister cut no ice with art experts

THE CURATOR who is disputing who painted one of Scotland’s most celebrated works has been given the cold shoulder by the National Gallery of Scotland.

Officials at the gallery in Edinburgh, where The Skating Minister is on display, said yesterday that experts from across the world would need to be consulted before settling "circumstantial" claims by Dr Stephen Lloyd that it was painted by a French artist.

Meanwhile, the world’s leading expert on Sir Henry Raeburn is preparing to argue the case for the Scottish painter at a lecture next month.

The National Gallery was unwilling to accept the "evidence" provided at a lecture by Dr Lloyd yesterday. A spokesman said: "There is no clear-cut evidence in Stephen’s research. It is circumstantial, rather than conclusive.

"Attribution to Raeburn is long-standing and it will take time to defeat that. But nobody can say on either side that there is absolute proof."

In his lecture at the National Gallery, Dr Lloyd, a senior curator at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, attempted to prove that the work, properly titled The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, was by Henri-Pierre Danloux.He said the work had defining features that proved it was the Frenchman’s. Dr Lloyd said that, while Danloux had built a reputation of using motion in his art, almost all of Raeburn’s work was motionless.

He said: "The refined style, the type of canvas, the irregularity of the craquelure [cracking] and the use of motion are all familiar with the work of Danloux. Danloux specialises in painting small-scale figures in motion, and that is what this painting shows."

Dr Lloyd also said the dispute may run for four years before a conclusion can be drawn. Michael Clarke, the director of the National Gallery, is planning an exhibition of Danloux’s work in 2009, and Dr Lloyd hopes that The Skating Minister will be recognised as part of Danloux’s collection by then.

However, the gallery spokesman added: "Stephen hopes to have the painting re-attributed by 2009 and it might be decided by then, or it could take even longer. The only way that we can decide is if expert opinions are swayed in one direction or another."

Dr Duncan Thomson, a former keeper of the National Portrait Gallery, who is renowned as the leading expert on the work of Raeburn, said the lecture did not alter his assertion that the painting is the work of that artist.

He said: "Dr Lloyd said absolutely nothing that would make me change my mind.

"In fact, the slides that he showed even supported my belief. He showed us, for example, a Raeburn portrait of two young archers who were clearly moving. There is indeed motion in several of Raeburn’s works. He also said the canvas proved it was Danloux’s. It is true that it is not the type of canvas that Raeburn would normally use, but he did use it for at least ten other paintings.

"The idea of the cracking proving anything is also a rather far-fetched notion - that only indicates that the ground he placed the canvass on was a certain type and is not anything unique."

Dr Thomson is set to present a lecture arguing the case for Raeburn on 28 April at the National Gallery.

He said: "I am fairly sure I can put forward such a convincing case that it will put the matter to rest. I will be able to demonstrate that the actual ‘handwriting’ is Raeburn’s. The actual application of the paint is typical of Raeburn in the same way as you or I have distinctive handwriting."

He says he wouldn’t expect any quick resolutions to the debate, as he is sure that those putting forward the Danloux case will not give up. He added: "This story is probably going to run for some time. However, I’m prepared for a battle, and I have plenty of ammunition."