The Niel Gow Mezzotint and Nathaniel’s gift to the nation

British Museum Gow

In a previous post I mentioned and reproduced the mezzotint of Raeburn’s famous portrait of Niel Gow published in 1816. Here is a little bit more.

This ‘memorail portrait’ print was prepared by William Say in 1814 and published in 1816 by T. Macdonald of 39 Fleet Street, London.

David Alexander has written:

What special circumstances led to a London publication has not been established, but the name of the publisher, T. Macdonald, naturally suggests that he may have had links with Scotland. Examples of this print are known printed in colours which makes the print probably the only example after Raeburn of what was known at the time as a ‘furniture print’, which was intended for decorative purposes. The sitter, though a celebrity in Scotland and London, was to be the only ‘man of the people’ painted by Raeburn whose portrait was engraved. [David Alexander, Viccy Coltman and Stephen Lloyd Henry Raeburn and his Printmakers (Edinburgh, 2006) p. 15.]

It was subsequently suggested by Stana Nenadic (with input from Mary Ann Alburger) that:

The reason for the print at that time was a new edition of Gow’s tunes published by his son Nathaniel, a successful dance-band impressario and sheet music entrepreneur, with retail premises in both Edinburgh and London. He also presented a set of engraver’s plates and proofs to the British Museum in celebration of his father’s musical achievement and memory. [Stana Nenadic ‘Raeburn and the Print Culture of Edinburgh, c. 1790-1830: Constructing Enlightened and National Identities’ in Viccy Coltman and Stephen Lloyd Henry Raeburn. Context, Reception and Reputation (Edinburgh, 2012) pp. 159-160. Note also Mary Ann Alburger ‘Musical Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century’ in Stana Nanadic Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century (Lewisburg, 2010).]

It is assumed that it was the engraver’s plates for the mezzotint that were donated to the British Museum rather than those for the new Gow collection. The museum certainly has a copy of the print (1852,1009.1285) but this was donated in 1852 by the engraver’s son Frederick Richard Say (fl. 1825-1860) who was also a printmaker.

I wonder if the engraver’s plates still exist.