Forward Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 28 Who is this Jacobite lady dressed in Murray tartan?

Portrait of a Jacobite Lady
Topic: Other

This unidentified portrait of a Jacobite lady is one of a small number of pre-Proscription* pictures of women wearing tartan.

The tartan, faithfully reproduced in the painting, is Murray of Tullibardine. Can we therefore hazard a guess at the identification of the sitter? She appears to be aged roughly 18–35 and the style and fineness of her jacket indicate a lady/family of wealth. The white rose represents a Jacobite supporter and it was probably painted in the 1740s, most likely 1745–1746.

We cannot be certain that she was a Murray, but several possible contenders for her identity amongst this strongly Jacobite clan are listed in the attachment.

She has also been identified as Jenny Cameron, daughter of Cameron of Lochiel and alleged mistress of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The collection comments: ‘Traditionally, the sitter is attributed as Flora MacDonald. However, it has been suggested that the lady is Jenny (or Jean) Cameron who might be an amalgamate of more than one lady.’

*The Act of Proscription 1746 banned the wearing of Highland dress (thus tartan) in Scotland and reiterated the Disarming Act, both of which were intended to crush Jacobite support among the Scottish clans following the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

Peter Eslea MacDonald, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

28 comments

Jacinto Regalado,

She looks fairly young, probably less than 20. Has the picture been cut down? It looks somewhat truncated, as if it was originally 3/4 or even full length.

Jacinto Regalado,

The dates for Jenny Cameron, of whom there may have been more than one, are apparently not definite, so that is unlikely to help.

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

There are contemprary specimens of this tartan still in the possession of the Murray family at Blair Castle which, whilst not definitive, certainly confirms that family's association with the tartan of the portrait at the time.

Jacinto Regalado,

This does not look like the portrait of a mistress; it is much more likely to be one of a duke's daughter.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this picture was painted ca. 1745-46, the most likely candidates based on age are Jane and Charlotte Murray, daughters of the 2nd Duke of Atholl, and their cousin Amelia Murray, daughter of his brother George. However, the 2nd Duke of Atholl did not join the Jacobite rising of 1745 and took the king's side, while Lord George Murray did join the 1745 rising as he had also joined the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1719. Thus, it is much more likely for this to be a portrait of a member of a militant Jacobite family, which favors Amelia Murray (1732-77).

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

The problem with it being Amelia Murrey is that that would make her roughly 14 when the picture was painted and the sitter looks older IMO.

The fact that the Duke supported the Crown does not mean that his daughters would not have been sympathetic. The Murrays of Ochtertyre had a similar situation where the father was a Hanoverian officer yet had his daughter painted with overtly Jacobite symbolism. https://www.scottishtartans.co.uk/Murray_of_Ochtertyre.pdf

With this in mind, the daughter of the 1st Duke of Atholl, Lady Mary Murray, is possible candidates, especially as herfather was dead by the time of the '45 and herhalf-brother was chief and 2nd Duke of Atholl. Or possibly one of the 2nd Duke's daughters:

Lady Jane Murray (died 1747 so possibly less likely)
Lady Charlotte Murray




Jacinto Regalado,

Since Lady Mary Murray was born in 1720, that might fit. I tend to doubt this is either Jane or Charlotte Murray, since they were both young enough to be still firmly under their father's control, and the 2nd Duke was clearly on the Hanoverian side.

There is a portrait his brother, the Lord George Murray who was Amelia's father, at Blair Castle. Is it known who painted it?

Jacinto Regalado,

While the age of the sitter in our portrait is open to debate, I do not think it is out of the question that it could be a "mature" 14-year-old in grown-up dress. In other words, I think Amelia Murray remains a possibility.

Jacinto Regalado,

Cosmo Alexander, of course, was a Jacobite who fled Scotland after Culloden. Interestingly, he taught the very young Gilbert Stuart, who became one of the foremost American portrait painters, notably of George Washington.

Jacinto Regalado,

One reason I think the sitter could be a very young girl is that there's something about the way her face is painted that vaguely reminds me of the young girls of Balthus, albeit without the Lolita factor. That may well be stretching things too far, but there it is.

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

I know the portrait of Lord George, there is no artist's signature and the archavist at Blair Castle doesn't know who painted it.

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

When I look at the portrait of the Unknown Woman I see a slim sitter painted with the suggestion of a bust and wearing a feminised version of a male Riding Coat. Both elements suggest someone older than 14, especially in the mid-18th century.

Jacinto Regalado,

No doubt it varies, but 14-year-old girls can have a visible bust.

Is anything relevant known about Lady Mary Murray's history around the time the portrait was presumably painted? Her father died in 1724. She did not marry till 1749, so would have been single in 1745-46. Her older brother Lord John Murray had a distinguished military career as a Hanoverian, not a Jacobite. It may be that she had Jacobite sympathies, but there can be little question that Amelia Murray did.

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

I'm afraid I know nothing relevant about Lady Mary Murray's history around the time the portrait was painted. That does not mean it doesn't exist. The family records at Blair Castle are considerable but they have not been digitised.

John Forbes,

We should not rely too heavily upon the tartan. Scottish castles display numerous old family portraits with the sitters wearing a wide assortment of plaids. The codification of tartan patterns as exclusive to specific families was a 19th century phenomenon — cooked up to promote the sale of woolens.

Jacinto Regalado,

It would appear from the linked article by Mr. MacDonald that the tartan in the picture exactly matches the pattern of that of Murray of Tullibardine. However, if Jenny Cameron is still a candidate for the sitter, does that mean she could have worn that tartan pattern?

Jacinto Regalado,

Peter, did you mean that the tartan was worn by others besides the Murrays but not by Jenny Cameron?

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

Yes, by others outside the Murray clan. I'm not saying that Jenny Cameron didn't wear it, just that there's no evidence that she did.

I follow on here from Peter's comment five days ago that this portrait suggests 'someone older than 14, especially in the mid-18th century.' I disagree with this because young girls were dressed as adults certainly by the age of 14 in the 18th century- and indeed for a long time before. The shape of their bodies was thereafter dictated by the heavy boned corsets they wore. The torso in this girl's portrait clearly shows shaping by such a corset. See attachment 1. I also add in 2 portraits of Marie Antoinette,- albeit from the 1770s and Royal, which show her aged 12 and then aged 17, very clearly wearing corsets in both portraits.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is a matter of opinion and thus open to debate, but I still think the sitter could be a girl of 14, which leaves Amelia Murray, daughter of the confirmed and actively Jacobite Lord George Murray, as a prime candidate (though obviously there are others).

Peter Eslea MacDonald,

Intersting, but comparing (relatively) modern physical attributes with those of the mid-18th is not that helpful. I've examined a number of military jackets of the period and most are tiny by today's standards.

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