About this artwork

In 1780 Lord Alva, a Judge of the Court of Session, became one of Allan’s first clients for a group portrait in the ‘conversational manner’ which the artist developed on his return to Scotland. During the early 1760’s the patronage of James Erskine had helped to launch Allan’s career as a portrait and figure painter. At the same time Erskine became a founder-subscriber to the building of St Cecilia’s Hall as the new premises for the Musical Society of Edinburgh. Lord Alva evidently wished to commission from Allan a musical conversation piece of the type rendered fashionable in London by Johann Zoffany. In the foreground the younger Erskines are shown performing one of the Scottish ballads which featured regularly in the weekly concerts of the Musical Society.

  • title: James Erskine, Lord Alva (1722 - 1796) and his family
  • accession number: NG 2690
  • artist: David AllanScottish (1744 - 1796)
  • gallery: On Loan
  • object type: Painting
  • medium: Oil on canvas
  • date created: Dated 1780
  • measurements: 124.50 x 152.50 cm (framed: 138.80 x 168.00 x 6.70 cm)
  • credit line: Purchased 1998
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

David Allan

David Allan

Allan was born in Alloa, on the Firth of Forth, and attended the Foulis Academy in Glasgow for seven years. In 1767 he moved to Rome, where he lived for ten years; this was the most successful period of his life. In Rome Allan painted ambitious historical pictures, portraits, caricatures and genre scenes. On returning to London in 1777, he spent two years trying to establish himself. Unsuccessful and ill, he returned to Scotland where he specialised in painting family groups. He also produced book illustrations and was appointed master of the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh.