William Stewart Watson

The inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate of the Lodge (1846)

About this artwork

Robert Burns became a freemason in 1781 and soon rose to become depute master of St James Lodge in Tarbolton. The subject here is the poet's supposed inauguration as Poet Laureate in the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No 2, in Edinburgh in 1787. It was painted nearly sixty years later, using prints and family pictures to produce accurate portraits of those present. Although the artist undoubtedly believed in Burns's inauguration, it is unlikely that this event ever took place. Instead, the honour could have been conferred upon Burns posthumously. The Canongate Lodge, also known as St John's Chapel, is the oldest purpose-built Masonic meeting room in the world, dating from 1736. The organ in the background is still played at Lodge meetings.

William Stewart Watson

William Stewart Watson

William Stewart Watson was born in 1800 and died in Edinburgh in 1870. His style seems based on the work of his contemporary Sir William Allan, a successful Royal Academy painter. Stewart Watson is said to have practised for some years in America, but he was in Rome in 1840 and in London between 1843 and 1847, after which he settled in Edinburgh where he remained for the rest of his life. The artist's favourite subjects were portraits and history paintings. In addition to painting, Stewart Watson often used other techniques and materials such as ink, watercolour, chalk and charcoal. He is also known as a miniature painter.