Henry Raeburn portrait Boy and Rabbit goes on show at Kelvingrove
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Henry Raeburn portrait Boy and Rabbit goes on show at Kelvingrove

20/09/2017

One of Henry Raeburn’s most intimate and endearing portraits has gone on show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  Boy and Rabbit, on loan from the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London, will hang in the portrait section of the Looking at Art gallery in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum until June 2018.  It is very appropriate that the painting is being unveiled during International Deaf Week as the remarkable portrait depicts the artist’s step-grandson, Henry Raeburn Inglis who was Deaf. A programme of events, talks and workshops will be on offer around the different themes explored by the painting while it is on display. 

Glasgow Museums is delighted to partner with the RA to bring Boy and Rabbit to Kelvingrove, where it is expected to be a real highlight with museum visitors, particularly children and families. The boy in the portrait was Deaf and the painting is all about the senses, with touch being of particular importance in the relationship between young Henry and his pet rabbit. The artwork offers an inspiring story of triumph in the face of adversity, as the boy grew up to become an artist in his own right, no doubt inspired by his grandfather’s example.  

Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor David McDonald, said: “It’s wonderful to welcome such a seminal painting as Raeburn’s Boy and Rabbit to Kelvingrove and share it with the million plus people who visit the museum every year.  The loan is part of an exciting reciprocal agreement with the Royal Academy in London. Such partnerships enable Scottish audiences to enjoy striking artworks from other important collections across the UK.  Boy and Rabbit is one of the RA’s most popular paintings and I’m sure it will become a favourite among visitors during its time in Glasgow.” 

Tim Marlow, Artistic Director, Royal Academy of Arts, said: “We are extremely grateful to Kelvingrove for loaning their treasured painting Christ of St John on the Cross by Salvador Dali to our forthcoming exhibition Dali/Duchamp. This has presented us with a great opportunity to reciprocate with the loan of Raeburn’s Boy and Rabbit from the RA’s collection. Consequently, two great and utterly unconnected works will be shown to new audiences in hitherto unseen contexts and I for one am relishing the chance to see both!”

Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) was a prominent Scottish Enlightenment painter. The portrait demonstrates his skill in capturing character and likeness. However, other attributes have captured the attention of Glasgow Museum’s Learning and Access team.  Firstly, the painting focuses on the senses.  The importance of physical contact is conveyed in the boy’s pose, which shows his arm protectively embracing the rabbit. Secondly, there is an intimacy in the portrayal that immediately engages the viewer.  The boy’s position and dress are relaxed and informal and eloquently speak of changing attitudes towards childhood at the time, with children beginning to be treated as children and not just mini-adults. Together this provides a strong foundation for an exciting, engaging and informative public programme, which includes curator’s talks, BSL guided tours, a children’s art competition and animal handling sessions.   

Glasgow Museums’ D/deaf Guides assisted with the written interpretation that accompanies the painting.  They share how, in their experience, caring for an animal can have a calming effect on D/deaf people and the lack of communication barriers often leads to particularly close owner / animal bonds. A new initiative will see volunteer guides provide BSL guided tours of Kelvingrove Museum, on request. 

Janis McDonald Chief Officer of Scottish Council on Deafness said: “I want to commend Kelvingrove Museum staff for taking the time to develop this project and highlight this wonderful painting as part of International Deaf week. Glasgow Museums are working hard to ensure deaf people find it easy to access their facilities and enjoy the full experience and joy that art and culture bring. They are going further than simply levelling the playing field and using this work to promote and support deaf awareness.”

Chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor David McDonald, added: “Glasgow Life is committed to ensuring everyone can access the city’s incredible collection. The addition of specially trained volunteer BSL guides, who are able to bring the stories behind many of the objects on display in Kelvingrove to life for those who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment, is a welcome addition to the services we offer. I want to thank the guides for giving of their time to assist Kelvingrove in this way.” 

Raeburn lived and worked almost his entire life in Edinburgh, where he produced portraits depicting members of the Scottish elite including politicians, judges, landowners, writers and intellectuals. He was hugely prolific, producing around 1,000 canvases. Glasgow Museums collection includes 20 other works by Raeburn. However this painting is unusual as it has a child and family member as its sitter. 

Boy and Rabbit will hang in the Looking at Art gallery in Kelvingrove Museum until June 2018.

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