The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (1784) . Picture: Wikimedia
Perhaps the most famous of all Scottish paintings, Henry Raeburn’s masterpiece depicts Rev Robert Walker, a member of the first figure skating club in the world. The Edinburgh Skating club used to meet on either Lochend or Duddingston Loch, depending on which had frozen over. Walker’s father had been a minister in Rotterdam, meaning that, as a child, he had learned to skate on the Netherlands’ frozen canals.
The composition and subject matter of the painting are unusual among Scottish paintings. Raeburn shows Walker in the “travelling position”, with arms folded and leg extended. His stark black outfit contrasts strongly with the misty backdrop, and is reminiscent of 17th century Dutch art. The technical skill required to paint the ribbons on Walker’s skates, and the grooves carved into the ice, makes this painting particularly accomplished.