Thomas Telford

LL 3147


Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834) was born near Westerkirk, Dumfriesshire, the son of a shepherd. A man of enormous energy, he developed into one of the greatest civil engineers of his day, a visionary builder of bridges, designer of canals and surveyor of roads and harbours. His greatest achievements included the Pontycysylte aqueduct over the River Dee (1796 - 1803 - described by Sir Walter Scott as the most impressive work of art he had ever seen), the Caledonian Canal (1803 - 1822), the Göta Canal in Sweden (1808 - 1832) and the Menai Bridge (1819 - 1826). Although the attribution of this painting to Raeburn has not been universally accepted, the handling does seem characteristic of his work and the work's provenance is strongly in its favour. The portrait was lent to the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868 and the 1876 Raeburn exhibition in Edinburgh by Mrs. Margaret Burge, the youngest daughter of Rev. Archibald Alison, one of Telford's closest friends. Alison (1757 - 1839), the author of the 'Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste' (1790), had commissioned Telford to make some alterations to his Northamptonshire vicarage in the mid 1780s and Telford had thereafter become a kind of adopted uncle to his children. It is therefore very unlikely that any mistake should have arisen over who painted the portrait.