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James Cunningham, Last Earl of Glencairn

ca. 1790 Unidentified (British) watercolor on ivory sight 2 1/2 x 1 7/8 in. (6.3 x 4.8 cm) oval Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of William Mouat Hannay 1951.3.8 Not currently on view


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Born in Scotland, James Cunningham was the fourteenth Earl of Glencairn from 1775 until his death in 1791. Because James had no children, his brother John succeeded him, making John the last earl of Glencairn, rather than James as the title of this piece suggests. After James’s death, his friend the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote “Lament for James Cunningham, 14th Earl of Glencairn.” The last lines of the poem read: “The mother may forget the child/ that smiles sae sweetly on her knee;/ But I’ll remember thee Glencairn/ and a’ that thou hast done for me.” The intricately woven hair on the reverse of the portrait is probably Cunningham’s, suggesting that this was a piece of mourning jewelry.

Keywords

Occupation - other - aristocrat

Portrait male - Cunningham, James - bust

painting - miniature

paint - watercolor

ivory