Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Forbes

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Duncan Forbes (1685-1747)

Scottish patriot; second son of Forbes of Culloden; studied law in Edinburgh and Leyden; supported the Union and Walpole's policy in Scotland; lord advocate, 1725; lord president of the Court of Session from 1737; enforced, with General Wade, the act of disarming the highlanders and raised troops against Charles in 1745.

61 After Jeremiah Davison, c.1737(?)
Oil on canvas, 29 ¾ x 24 ¾ in. (756 x 628 mm); high forehead, deep-set dark grey eyes, patrician nose, full lips, wig with looped end well down his right shoulder; white neck-cloth, deep crimson cape of lord president of Court of Session, brown dress; plain brown background, incomplete dark brown spandrels.

Formerly attributed to W. Aikman, NPG 61 is an early if crude copy [1] of the only known portrait from life by Davison. Two types survive: as in NPG 6I, but near whole length in the possession of the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, by 1856 [2] and a slightly different portrait, turned to the left with robe open, engraved whole length by J. Faber junior in 1748 with a dedication to Hardwicke. A head of the latter type signed or inscribed I Davison P belonged in 1859 to the sitter's great-great-grandson Arthur (d.1879). [3] A fine version, unsigned, was at Blair Castle by 1797, [4] and another, without spandrels, is in the Scottish NPG. The face mask in all is similar and probably dates from Forbes' presidency of the Court of Session beginning in 1737, though whether from different sittings is not clear. Among copies by John Medina there was one, brought into the NPG in 1964, bearing an inscription on the back of the lining with his name, the date 1756 and giving Lady Kintore as donor of the portrait to Sir John Forbes. The artist referred to is presumably John Medina the elder (d.1764), son of Sir John Baptist Medina, the 'Scottish Kneller' (1659-1710). NPG 61, however, does not appear to be by his hand or by the John Medina (1721-96) whose portrait of Dame Flora Macleod of Macleod, 1765, is at Dunvegan Castle.

Condition: surface cleaned, polished and varnished 1887, 1895 and 1902; the varnish is now discoloured; small damages in the right of the wig and the background, pin holes in the corners and slight paint losses at the edges.

Collections: given, 1859, by Sir John Forbes, MD.


A water-colour by John Campbell, private collection, is signed and dated 1746. The fine whole length statue by Roubiliac erected by subscription in 1752 and still in the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, is modelled after their oil by Davison which was sent to London for the purpose. [5] A plaster model was listed as belonging to Colonel Warrand, [6] believed to be a descendant of the sitter.


1. Scharf, I, p.171, as probably by Aikman.
2. Information from J.M. Pinkerton, clerk, Faculty of Advocates, 1973.
3. Exh. 'Historical Portraits', Aberdeen, 1859 (94), lent by A. Forbes of Culloden; ‘NPE', 1867 (393)—both times wrongly as by Allan Ramsay.
4. BM Add MS6329, f.12; 'Exhibition of Scottish Art', RA, 1939 (45).
5. Esdaile, MS list of portraits in sculpture, NPG archives
6. Ibid.