May - Twenty years on the trail of William Douglas

Although it is not part of this collection, a descendant of William Douglas (14 Apr 1780-30 Jan 1832) a miniature painter from Edinburgh, Scotland, has very kindly sent me this image which is a large oil self portrait by William Douglas.

In the portrait he looks very self assured and confident. Judging by his apparent age, I would think it was painted around 1805. As befits his profession he is holding a brush or drawing pencil.

William Douglas as a miniature painter, holds a special position in this collection.

Elsewhere I have commented that the start of this collection of miniatures was occasioned by being present at a public antique auction when a group of family miniature portraits by William Douglas were being sold as separate lots as part of an estate sale.

This was in 1988 and pretty much on the spur of the moment, I purchased about six lots, out of about the eight lots of paintings offered by William Douglas, which was as much as I could afford at the time. They can be seen in the British 2 Gallery.

About ten years later, around 1998, another branch of the family sold some more miniature portraits by William Douglas at a different auction house. These were again mainly of family members. Fortunately, it was possible to acquire all the miniatures offered, together with one of his sketchbooks. These miniatures are also included in the British 2 Gallery.

Thus it was interesting to compare the various miniatures, apparently from two different branches of the current family, and be able to determine that, while some of the miniatures were by William Douglas, some others must have been painted by his daughter Archibald Ramsay Douglas (yes, Archibald was female!), who was also a miniature painter.

Now, twenty years on, in 2008 and at an auction by yet another auction house, several more miniatures by William Douglas were offered by his descendants. Two lots were not quite as interesting, being larger than normal miniature size, not of family members, and possibly copies of larger oil portraits.

However, the third lot contained three miniature portraits of his children. Thus it was a "must have" for the collection. The cost of the lot was more than I hoped, but still a little less than the high estimate, so that was a help.

Thus in a single frame have been acquired these three miniature portraits of the children of William Douglas. He was born at Torryburn, Fife, Scotland and died in Edinburgh. His wife was Charlotte Grieve who he married on 7 Aug 1805.

Douglas held an appointment as Miniature Painter to HRH Princess Charlotte of Wales who, if she had not died shortly after her marriage, would have been Queen of England. Instead the throne descended to Queen Victoria.

The three children in the frame are; Archibald Ramsay Douglas at the top, Charlotte Douglas at the lower left, and Robert Duncan Douglas at the lower right.

Later in her life Archibald Ramsay Douglas (24 Apr 1807-?) was a miniature painter in her own right and several miniatures by her feature in this collection. She seems not to have married.

Charlotte Douglas (2 May 1810-?) later married William Stuart and that branch of the family emigrated to New Zealand in the mid 19C.

Records suggest that the only son, Robert Duncan Douglas (24 Feb 1812->1881) never married and lived all his life in Edinburgh. He appears to have trained as a lawyer and been a Writer to the Signet, as well as a Procurator Fiscal (i.e. Crown Prosecutor).

It almost seems as if the sitters in the portraits may have been guiding me and that there is an element of fate in the acquisition of this frame as the frame was acquired about ten years subsequent to the purchase of a miniature of a fourth child of William Douglas and Charlotte Grieve.

She was named Christina Brown Douglas (19 Mar 1815-21 Jan 1821) and she died before the age of six.

Christina is shown in the fourth miniature, which as can be seen is unfinished, probably due to her early death. Thus, it seems both fitting and very fortunate that the four children have been reunited in this collection. At auction they could very easily have gone to different collectors and thus never been reunited.

The presence of these four miniatures of children, all painted by William Douglas, is also a useful resource for judging the quality of his work, especially when taken with the other Douglas family miniatures in the British 2 gallery which were painted either by William Douglas, or by his daughter Archibald Ramsay Douglas. 1331, 10

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