14th November 2018

Visitors to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott between Melrose and Galashiels, have only a short time left to see three rarely seen watercolour paintings before they disappear back into private collections.

Portrait miniature of Lady Williamina Forbes (nee Belsches) (c.1800), by Richard Cosway

A ‘lost’ Turner painting of Abbotsford, a miniature portrait of a four-year-old Scott (the earliest known to exist), and a miniature portrait of Scott’s first love, Williamina Belsches, are being removed from display at the end of November and returned to their owners, who had loaned the works for very limited periods.

The ‘lost’ Turner is on loan to The Abbotsford Trust as part of its seasonal exhibition, Turner and Scott: The Painter and the Poet. The pocket-sized watercolour, measuring just five and a half by three and a half inches, was discovered in a provincial London auction house and compelling research and scientific analysis strongly suggests that the postcard size painting of Sir Walter Scott and his family may be a lost watercolour by J.M.W. Turner. The little painting has been the subject of much analysis, from pigment analysis to infrared imaging, and is currently being displayed at Abbotsford in the frame in which it was sealed when it was discovered - a frame which dates to the lifetime of J.M.W Turner.

The miniature portrait of Scott as a young child is believed to have been displayed to the public just once, in 1835 at the British Institution or Pall Mall Picture Galleries, an exclusive exhibition reserved for society elites. Since then it has remained in private hands until it surfaced at auction a few years ago and was loaned to the Trust for just over three months until the end of November. The artist, Richard Collins, was based in London, and it is presumed the portrait in its leather travelling case was commissioned whilst the young Scott was staying in the capital with his aunt Jenny, en route to the healing waters of Bath, as he battled the after effects of contracting polio.

The romantic pocket miniature of Williamina, by the talented portraiture artist Richard Cosway, is backed in agate and has a mirrored display so visitors can view both sides. It depicts her as she might have looked around the time that her courtship with Scott faltered, and therefore it is a particularly poignant image of someone that the famous author had once loved and lost. Williamina went on to marry William Forbes of Pitsligo.

Kirsty Archer Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager, said: “It has been an exciting time for Abbotsford this year in terms of lost works and new discoveries. We have been delighted that the lenders have given us this opportunity to show these gems to the public. Sadly, we only have them until the end of the month, so art lovers, Sir Walter Scott aficionados and anyone interested in rarely seen treasures needs to see them before it’s too late! “

The ‘lost’ Turner started our year of amazing loans. Everything about this little painting feels authentic and consistent with the great man and we are hoping we can prove the theory with the help and support of enthusiasts and experts in the art world.

“There are very few known depictions of Scott in his youth so I was really surprised when an art agent got in touch to say a client of theirs had a portrait of Scott aged four in their possession. I couldn’t quite believe it. This little gem had remained under the radar for all these years of portraiture study on Scott, so it’s now thought to be the earliest portrait of him ever painted.

“The portrait of Williamina is displayed alongside a manuscript, To Time – by a Lady, containing some of Scott and Williamina’s poetry to one another, and also pieces composed by Scott in the wake of her rejection, which convey the raw emotion of unrequited love. This miniature is thought to date from 1797, when Williamina married another man, leaving Scott heartbroken.”

The ‘lost’ Turner, alongside two other rarely seen Turner watercolours owned by the Abbotsford Trust, can be viewed in the seasonal exhibition, which is open to visitors to the historic house and closes at the end of the month.

The two miniature portraits are on display in the exhibition of Scott’s life and legacy in the Abbotsford Visitor Centre. The free exhibition is open all year, 10am to 4pm in the winter months, but the two miniatures will be removed from display for return to their owners on Friday November 30th.