Early Robert Burns portrait to make $11,000 at Bonhams auction?

The long-awaited first part of the Scottish Sale at Bonhams will see one of the earliest Robert Burns portraits offered on August 20 in Edinburgh.

Robert Burns portrait Bonhams Alexander Nasmyth
The piece is one of the earliest Robert Burns portraits known

The portrait will be sold with a conservative pre-sale estimate of £5,000-7,000, though the poet's popularity in the country is likely to boost its value considerably. The portrait dates from the winter of 1786, during Burns' first visit to Edinburgh and just months after his first volume of poetry, the Kilmarnock Edition, was published.

At the time, the 27 year old was farming with his brother in Ayrshire, though he was already establishing himself a strong literary reputation. He had travelled to Edinburgh to arrange the publication of his second volume, the Edinburgh Edition, which was eventually released by the publisher William Creech in April 1787.

"This is one of the earliest portraits we have of Burns. It was painted while he was tasting the first fruits of success as a poet and was almost certainly derived from a life study which gives the likeness an appealing freshness and immediacy," said Bonhams' Chris Brickley.

The portrait is thought to originate from one of the children of the Scots artist Alexander Nasmyth, a close friend and confidant to Burns, who painted the poet from life for the frontispiece of the Edinburgh Edition. Several of Nasmyth's children were artists and, like the Edinburgh Edition portrait, the painting appears to have been painted from life.

In 2011 Paul Fraser Collectibles sold the personal bible of Robert Burns, which was used by the poet in the days leading up to his death. Just one week later, a second buyer contacted us to offer the new owner 150% of the sale price, demonstrating the power of Burns' memorabilia at auction. In May this year, a first edition of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect sold for £32,500 at another Edinburgh sale.


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