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Oil painting - William Hobson of Markfield

William Hobson of Markfield

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    late 18th century to early 19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Raeburn, Henry (Sir), born 1756 - died 1823 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Henry Pulsford Hobson

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Oil painting depicting William Hobson of Markfield, a notable building contractor, portrayed three quarter length, seated in a chair, wearing breeches and a thick coat. His hair is white but he has the stature and complexion of a young, bullish man.


late 18th century to early 19th century (painted)


Raeburn, Henry (Sir), born 1756 - died 1823 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 51.375 in estimate, Width: 40.375 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Henry Pulsford Hobson, 1921

Historical Significance: Sir Henry Raeburn was the son of a businessman in the textile trade. Both of his parents died when he was a child and he was subsequently supported by his elder brother William. Raeburn’s first experience in art was through an apprenticeship with James Gilliland, a jeweller. The decoration of jeweller’s materials and the related art of miniature painting were crucial parts of Raeburn’s artistic formation. Despite the characteristic breadth of handling, this early experience is visible in passages of fine detail in his mature work.

Examples of Raeburn’s early portraits include the quarter-length <i>James Hutton</i> (1778; Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland) and the famous <i>Rev. Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch</i> (1784 (?); Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland). The latter work shows a confidence of design and a precise control of light and shadow. Its style and quality foreshadow the maturity of the 1790s, and for that reason the early date has been disputed.

In 1784 Raeburn travelled to Rome via London, where he possibly met Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). There is little evidence as to how Raeburn used his time in Italy, although works such as <i>Admiral Inglis</i> (1780s; Edinburgh, NGS) show chromatic values which may be related to Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), the most popular portrait painter among English tourists in Rome.

Sir Henry Raeburn came back to Edinburgh around 1786, and later established a successful practice as a portrait painter. He practically eliminated all competition on the market, and therefore his paintings serve as a magnificent insight into the society of the time. Raeburn developed a personal style based on direct observation, bold handling of the brush and lack of a preparatory layer of drawing. However, his background in miniature painting remained influential in his handling of costumes and areas of still-life.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Raeburn’s introduced cooler colour schemes and a neo-classical elegance of line. His work at the time shows a remarkable range, from the dazzling colours in the majestic <i>Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry</i> (ex. 1812; Edinburgh, NGS) to the intimate, yet carefully executed portrait of the engineer <i>John Rennie</i> (c. 1810; Edinburgh, NGS).

In 1815 Raeburn was elected a member of Royal Academy in London. His inaugural piece, a <i>Self-portrait</i> (Edinburgh, NGS) shows his ambition to impress a London audience. However, Raeburn never managed to conquer the artistic scene of the capital and the rest of his career evolved around Edinburgh. He was knighted in 1822 by George IV, which marked the height of his achievement.

This painting represents William Hobson of Markfield (1752-1840), a successful building contractor. Mr Hobson was involved in the rebuilding of St Luke’s hospital, and the Docklands of London, however he is probably best known for the construction of the Martello Towers. The Martello towers were built along the South East coast of Britain in defence against the threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic wars. William Hobson resided in his house, Markfield, in what was then the village of Tottenham, near London. In 1806, the artist John Constable came to visit Markfield with a view of teaching Hobson’s thirteen daughters drawing. This resulted in a series of portraits of the Hobson family being made by Constable.

Judging from the apparent age of the sitter and the style, the work was probably executed in Raeburn’s last years. The gentleman is shown at a desk, in three-quarter length, seated with legs apart. He looks slightly to the right, avoiding the direct gaze at the viewer.

Raeburn painted some of the areas, such as the sitter’s face and front of his coat, in very fine detail. In other passages he shows a dynamic sketchiness of brushwork, for which he was renowned. The V&A also has a portrait of the wife of William Hobson, nee Ann Rickman, whom he married in 1779 (inventory number P.8-1921). Both were probably executed in a similar time and came to the museum in the same bequest.

Descriptive line

Oil painting depicting William Hobson of Markfield, by Sir Henry Raeburn R.A. Great Britain, ca. 1772-1823.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Paintings; Portraits; Scotland


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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