About this artwork

Nasmyth painted this long after his friend's death, basing the image on his well-known head and shoulders portrait of Burns. In this idealised scene he has placed the poet in front of the Auld Brig o' Doon at Alloway in Ayrshire, close to where Burns grew up. In Burns's poem 'Tam o' Shanter' of 1790, Tam's brave grey mare Maggie must reach this bridge and cross the running stream to evade the witches and warlocks pursuing her drunken master. It is said that Nasmyth conceived of this particular pose during a walk out from Edinburgh to Roslin early one morning, when he sketched Burns while the latter was admiring the beauty of the scene. Despite its modest size, this painting became the inspiration for many statues of the poet around the world.

Alexander Nasmyth

Alexander Nasmyth

Nasmyth's impressive landscapes are his most significant contribution to painting in Scotland. One of his most famous works, however, is the portrait of his friend, the poet Robert Burns. Nasmyth, a pupil of Runciman, was assistant to Allan Ramsay and developed a sound appreciation of the importance of drawing to educate the artist's eye and hand. His interest in landscape painting stimulated his involvement with landscaping projects, including the layout of the grounds of Inveraray Castle. He was also an accomplished engineer, designing and building several bridges, and an influential teacher, inspiring many younger artists including his own children.