Sir Henry Raeburn: Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch

The portrait of Reverend Robert Walker, known by its popular title of The Skating Minister, is one of the most recognizable images in the Scottish National Gallery.

I remember the first time I saw Reverend Robert Walker on skates at the Scottish National Galleries. It recalled memories of skating on frozen lakes in Northern Manitoba, with only the trees and quiet solitude of winter to keep me company.

Reverend Robert Walker (1755 – 1808) Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn

Sir Henry Raeburn’s painting of Reverend Robert Walker skating is an iconic representation of the 19th century Scottish Enlightenment. The painting, created in about 1795 (the family believes it was painted in 1784), features Reverend Walker in the center of the canvas, gracefully gliding across a frozen lake. His figure is illuminated by the warm light of the setting sun, creating a peaceful, serene atmosphere. The painting captures the beauty of the Scottish landscape and the joy of outdoor recreation.

The painting features an unusual activity for a minister of the church to be engaging in during the time period. The “Skating Minister is the most famous member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, which was the first organized skating club in the world, founded in 1742 or 1744. The painting reflects the growing popularity of the sport of skating during the early 19th century.

“The lack of any documentation about its creation, together with the fact that the format is very unusual in Raeburn’s work, has prompted some scholars to question the Scottish painter’s authorship, and it has been linked instead with a French painter, Henri-Pierre Danloux. However, the tradition in Robert Walker’s family was quite clear that the painting was by Raeburn.” Scottish National Galleries

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

17 thoughts on “Sir Henry Raeburn: Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Rebecca. I can see why it’s so popular.
    I thought skating was around before the 1700’s. Live and learn
    Hey, I’m from Manitoba, too. I was not a good skater. My feet were too, cold. All I could think of was my pained toes and the upcoming hot chocolate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love those Manitoba winters!!! (Remember standing on Portage and Main? – Yikes) I know exactly what you mean about cold, pained toes that soon turned numb and would have have residual frostbite when I finally was able to head into the warmth and the luxurious taste of hot chocolate. Thank you for your visit and comments that recalled many great memories, even the cold, pained toes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I also remember crawling across the Portage and Main intersection once.
        Apparently it is the windiest corner in North America.

        Darn frozen toes!!! So much for my skating Career!

        Cheers to great memories!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a delightful painting–so realistic. It seems to be strange, in many of the comments that this minister (or any minister) should be on skates or be seen skating! ! Many think that when a man becomes a minister, they change and become a different person, how very untrue! Ministers (pastors) do not change their personalities when they study to become leaders in church settings! ! I am sure, however, leading a congregation in worship gives them opportunity to learn more about Christian conduct and worship!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for adding to this conversation, Frances. You know first-hand that ministers do not change their personalities. I think that Dad would very much appreciate “The Skating Minister.” I remember Dad on skates and snowshoes that kept hom on top of 4 -5 feet of soft snow. Those were the best days.

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    1. I agree, Robbie. He does look content. What I find most remarkable about this painting is that it tells the story of its time. It was unknown until 1949 because it was passed down through the family. It was acquired by the Nation Gallery of Scotland for 525 pounds. Even then, the painting did not become famous until it was included in a 1997 exhibition of Raeburn’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is now in popular culture. I’m certain that the Skating Minister would be very surprised that he is known worldwide.

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  3. OOh. I have seen this one at the gallery. it is some painting. Such elegance and grace when the ice will have been anything but even. (Of course he might not looked so elegant if it had broken) However seriously long after he and his sermons have gone, he will always be remembered because of this painting.

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    1. I wonder what his parishioners thought when they listened to his sermons. Would they imagine him on skates as he took to the pulpit. I never thought about the ice being even but you are absolutely right. I remember one year when I lived in Northern Manitoba – the ice froze so quickly that the lakes were like a man-made skating arena. That year, we were able to skate all over the lakes without fear of tripping. But that happened on just that year.

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    1. I am delighted to enjoyed the video, Mary Jo. During the Covid lockdown, I missed going to the Vancouver Art Gallery, so I went online. I was amazed by how art galleries, libraries, archives and museums connected via virtual venues. They have opened the doors to the world. Consider the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. National Galleries Scotland has a huge collection of videos that provide the backstory on a painting or groups of painters. I have learned so much and still have more to explore. It is exciting!!!

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