Completed Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 13 Is this Jacobite portrait by Cosmo Alexander?

Alasdair Ruadh MacDonnell, 13th Chief of Glengarry
Topic: Artist

This looks like a portrait by Cosmo Alexander (1724–1772). What does everyone else think?

Examples of the artist's work on Art UK:

Bendor Grosvenor, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. ‘Unknown artist’ has been updated to ‘attributed to Cosmo Alexander (1724–1772)’ and the ‘mid-18th C’ date range replaced by ‘1754–1761’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Jacinto Regalado,

This picture, which must be c. 1750s, is similar to Alexander's portraits of the Earl of Findlater and his wife, dated 1756:

Note especially the similar handling of the furniture and the relatively fuzzy or vaguely hazy handling of the figures. Yes, this picture could reasonably be attributed to Alexander.

Jacinto Regalado,

My argument, of course, rests on the Findlater portraits being definitely by Alexander, and I do not know how well established that may be. It is curious that some works (taken to be) by him look significantly sharper or harder-edged, but apparently his pictures were rather variable.

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

I've no idea if it's by Alexander, the other portential candidate would be William Mosman who painted a number of Highland portraits around the same time.

There's also a simiarity bewteen Glengarry and Alexander MacDonell of Keppoch painted in 1765, artist unknown.

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Jacinto Regalado,

This picture looks closer to the Findlater portraits by or attributed to Alexander than to the work of Mosman, whose style is more finished and more accomplished.

Osmund Bullock,

Another, smaller version of this portrait attributed to 'Circle of John Alexander', and formerly in the collection at Fingask Castle, was sold at Lyon & Turnbull in 2015: It was previously sold at Christie's Scotland on 26 April 1993. The catalogue entry mentions our version, "in the collection at Armadale Castle" - a bit confusing, as the castle itself is just a ruin.

The Collection's description of our portrait says that "it bears a striking similarity to one of Lord George Murray, the prominent Jacobite general". This is probably a mistake. When the Fingask Castle / Lyon & Turnbull version was sold before by Christie's in 1993 it seems to have been misidentified as Lord George Murray. I suspect this is the one they spotted. Artnet also has a poor image of another related portrait that was sold in June 1996, and again it's called Lord George Murray; the main figure is basically the same, but amongst other changes the servant has been removed completely:

Jacinto Regalado,

Cosmo Alexander was the son and pupil of John Alexander, and both were associated with the Jacobite cause, so either of them could have painted this.

Assuming the sitter is shown as 13th Chief of Glengarry, which he became in 1754, the date would be 1754-1761. During that period, Cosmo was based in London, though he may also have done work in Scotland, while I believe his father was in Aberdeen (as was William Mosman).

The safest option, of course, would be to list this under Scottish School. It would take greater expertise than mine to make a more specific attribution, though the Alexanders and Mosman would seem to be the top candidates.

Jacob Simon,

Bendor launched this discussion in 2019. It attracted six contributions in the first three days. Then silence until Jacinto's helpful post in 2022.

We are asked of this striking full-length slightly under life-size portrait, "Is this Jacobite portrait by Cosmo Alexander?" There are a limited number of other artists this competent at work in Scotland at the time. William Mosman has been mentioned but his figures tend to be gangly and his faces to have bulging eyes. We can rule him out. Allan Ramsay continued to visit Edinburgh but this picture has nothing to do with his work.

The difficulty with Cosmo Alexander is that few works as ambitious as our portrait are known and those few are not close. But the handling of the facial features is comparable to his work. When and where could artist and sitter met?

Uncertainties remain. "Scottish school" would be a safe option. But taking all-in-all I recommend that this discussion be closed on the basis that the artist be designated "Attributed to Cosmo Alexander".

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

This portrait has no date. I am interested to think about one as Jacintohas also done, suggesting 1754-61.The dress history clues are that MacDonell wears a very fashionably cut tartan wool suit. The flared jacket has no collar, and it has deep cuffs and large flap pockets. The long white satin waistcoat beneath is heavily embroidered in gold thread with matching cuffs. His linen shirt has a high collar, modest cravat,frilled cuffs over his hands. He wears a fashionable bag wig. All of that suggests the 1750s and matches portraits such as Arthur Devis, 'Portrait of a Man' c. 1750, Tate Britain, no 3888 and 'Richard Grenville-Temple' by William Hoare, NPG no 2258 dated to 1757
Samantha J MacLaren, (From Jacobite To ‘Judas’? A Re-Assessment Of The Reputation Of ‘Pickle The Spy’ AKA Alistair Ruadh MacDonell, 13th Chief Of Glengarry, BA dissertation 2023 Univ of Wales Trinity St David - ) writes that after release from 2 years imprisonment in the Tower of London, in 1747 MacDonnell returned to France to continue the Jacobite cause but destitute and reduced to ‘selling his sword and shoe-buckles’- (p. 25) and therefore unlikely then to be able to afford this costly suit. Failure to receive financial help from Prince Edward Stuart became one reason why MacDonell became an agent for the Hanoverian government from 1751-55, though MacLaren states he was finally never paid for his services.( p.29 ) By 1754, aged 29, he was able to return to Scotland and regain his ruined castle and his position as 13th Chief of Glengarry. This portrait could well be a memorialisation of that event even though he died penniless soon after in 1761, aged just 36.
Jacinto proposes dates of 1754-1761. I would like to suggest just c. 1754.

Jacob Simon,

Thanks to Lou for her valuable history of our man. It is very possible that his portrait is a memorialisation of his return in 1754 as Lou suggests. But it is not clear that the portrait was painted immediately. Once he had decided to commission his portrait sitter and artist will have needed to come together, perhaps in Edinburgh. So a date between 1754 and his death in 1761 seems sensible, in the absence of documentation, even though the years immediately following his return may be more likely.