Jacobite Exhibition Closes

After a very sucessful run, Curator Vanessa Martin reflects on the highlights of bringing this iconic exhibition to Scotland.

In April 2019 Count Peter Pininski popped into the West Highland Museum en route to Culloden and made a generous offer, to loan the museum a very special portrait that was then on short-term loan to National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.  The painting in question was a portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart by renowned Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera. A pastel on blue paper, the half-length portrait depicts the prince wearing the Order of the Garter and had until 2018 had been held in a private collection.  This portrait is important as it is believed to be the only portrait of the prince before the 1745 Jacobite Rising which was not commissioned by his father, the exiled James VIII, and therefore it is more likely to be an accurate representation of the prince as it was not influenced by his father. We were excited to accept Count Pininski’s generous offer and suggested we could exhibit the painting during the museum’s centenary celebrations in 2022. 

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Later in 2019 The Pininski Foundation offered further loans to the museum which formed the basis of the Return of the Stuarts exhibition, a series of rare 18th century paintings depicting the Royal House of Stuart in exile.  These paintings commissioned by the royal family were important examples of portraiture, some had never been on public display before and others never displayed in the United Kingdom.  Over the next year the museum set about raising the funds needed to bring the exhibition to Scotland and upgrade the Jacobite gallery to accommodate the exhibition.  In October/November 2020 the museum ran a successful crowdfunding campaign using the Art Happens platform.  Through the generosity of many donors, we were able to raise funds to deliver the exhibition. Additional sponsors contributed to the exhibition, these included The Lund Trust, Lyon & Turnbull, the 1745 Association and William Grant and Sons, among others. Museums Galleries Scotland awarded the museum a £31,000 grant from the Museums Development Fund to refurbish the Jacobite gallery, and upgrade security, lighting, and environmental conditions. In August 2022 the paintings arrived from Europe and were installed in the Jacobite gallery, along with other paintings loaned from private collections in Scotland.  Dr Bendor Grosvenor kindly loaned a portrait of James VII / II and John Nicholls MBE two miniatures of a young Prince Charles Edward Stuart and an engraving of the elderly prince.

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The Royal House of Stuart portraits included in the exhibition covered virtually the entire period of the exile of the royal family after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-89. The earliest dated from 1692 and the last from 1788, shortly after the death of the elderly Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Prince Charles had a Polish mother, Queen Clementina, who was herself a grand-daughter of King John III of Poland and the exhibition begins with this celebrated monarch.  Families also have descendants who continue their line after they have ceased to occupy the limelight and this exhibition concluded with a portrait of 1800 showing Prince Charles’s relatively unknown granddaughter Princess Marie Victoire de Rohan.

The portraits of the exiled Stuarts presented in the exhibition were a small but iconic selection of the many produced in the century following the ‘Glorious Revolution’, and their artistic quality is of the highest order. We saw the exiled James VII/II and James VIII/III, Queen Clementina and Prince Charles, whose portraits allowed us to see the Bonnie Prince as he really was. The pastel by Rosalba Carriera in Venice is the only portrait of Charles painted before he came to Scotland which was not influenced by his father. The last portraits in the exhibition allowed us to see Charles’ legitimised daughter and the granddaughter he never knew. The exhibition took us from the optimism of 1692, that sooner or later there would be a successful Stuart restoration, just as there had been in 1660 for the uncle of James VIII/III, to the sad acceptance that the Stuart exile would never end, and that the family was destined to become extinct in the male line.

The exhibition launched on 18th August with a highly successful lecture delivered by Count Pininski and renowned art historian Professor Edward Corp. This fascinating talk focused on the portraits in the exhibition and its content is encapsulated in the exhibition catalogue which the two have co-authored and which is still available at the museum. Around ninety people attended the launch event at Highland Cinema adjacent to the museum.  The following day a Jacobite Schools Day introduced the exhibition to over 100 children from local schools and the exhibition has attracted a steady footfall of visitors throughout its duration.  The museum has been extremely lucky to have hosted this exhibition of exceptional portraits, the calibre of which would not usually be seen outside Edinburgh. The exhibition closed on 29th October.

Vanessa Martin