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Sir John Watson Gordon's 1820 Portrait
of Sir Walter Scott
The half-length portrait painted by Sir
John Watson Gordon in 1820 presents Scott in full face, holding
his terrier Ourisque, and wearing a brown coat over a buff waistcoat.
|In 1820 Anne Hamilton, Marchioness of Abercorn,
asked Sir Walter Scott to sit for a portrait for her, leaving
the choice of painter up to him. Lady Abercorn, a great admirer
of Scott's work, was one of his most intimate correspondents,
and, by 1820, belonged to the 'inner circle' of friends to
whom he had confessed his authorship of the Waverley Novels.
Scott's choice of painter fell on a distant relative, Sir John
Watson Gordon (then known simply as John Watson). Watson Gordon
was a second cousin of Scott's on his mother's side. In his Journal (13
April 1831), Scott recalled his parents inviting the painter's
father Captain James Watson to their home in George
Square in the vain hope that his tales of hardship at sea
might dissuade Scott's brother Robert from joining the Navy.
on the thumbnail to see a photogravure of J. W.
Gordon's 1820 portrait of Scott
Scott sat for Watson Gordon at some point between 1 June 1820,
when he informed Lady Abercorn that 'the sitting for my picture
is not quite begun yet' (Letters, VI, 201), and 1 July
when he reported 'the portrait is advancing by the pencil of a
clever artist and will I think be a likeness and a tolerably good
picture' (VI, 217). Scott asked Lady Abercorn to forgive him 'if
I look a little sleepy' as 'I had to make my attendance on the
man of colours betwixt six and seven in the morning.' A letter
of 2 August 1820 confirms that the portrait is complete and has
been consigned to the post. Scott adds: 'The dog which I am represented
as holding in my arms is a Highland terrier from Kintail of a breed
very sensible very faithful, and very ill-natured. It sometimes
tires or pretends to do so when I am on horseback and whines to
be taken up when it sits before me like a child without any assistance.'
Lady Abercorn replied on 10 August that she hoped
the portrait 'was as like you as your Bust [by Chantrey]'.
Even if it did not depict 'one of the most distinguished men of
this age', she would value it 'as that of one of the best of friends,
one that circumstances has [sic] only changed in showing more kindness
and Attachment in Adversity than in prosperity' (VI, 253).
The painting was badly damaged when Rougham Hall
was bombed in 1940 and subsequently cut down. The signature and
the dog no longer exist. It was never engraved but photogravures
were taken for The Scott Exhibition MDCCCLXXI (1872)
and Caw's Scott Gallery (1903).
- Caw, James L. The Scott Gallery:
A Series of One Hundred and Forty-Six Photogravures, Together
with Descriptive Letterpress (Edinburgh; London: T.C. & E.C.
- Lockhart, John Gibson. Memoirs of
the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., 7 vols (Edinburgh:
R. Cadell, 1837-38)
- Russell, Francis. Portraits
of Sir Walter Scott: A Study of Romantic Portraiture (London:
The Author, 1987)
- The Scott Exhibition MDCCCLXXI:
Catalogue of the Exhibition Held at Edinburgh, in July
and August 1871, on Occasion of the Commemoration of the
Centenary of the Birth of Sir Walter Scott
(Edinburgh: [s.n.], 1872)
- Scott, Walter, Sir. The Journal of Sir
Walter Scott, Bart., ed. W.E.K. Anderson (Oxford: Clarendon
- Scott, Walter, Sir. The Letters of
Sir Walter Scott, ed. H.J.C. Grierson (London: Constable,
In addition to the above sources, this page draws on unpublished
research by James C. Corson.
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Last updated: 17-Feb-2009
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