We’ve the good fortune of having a year round ice skating rink nearby, which makes for a nice break in a steamy July day. This provides me a contrived intro for the Raeburn chestnut to our left. You know the piece. The Reverend Something Something skating on Someplace Someplace. That one.
The Reverend was the third child of William Walker and Susanna Sturment, he a Scotsman and she a Virginian, of all things. The father also a man of the cloth was called to minister to the Church of Scotland ex-patriots at the Scottish Kirk in Rotterdam (destroyed in the last war, alas).
What is a boy to do in the Netherlands when the winter cold freezes the canals?
He didn’t live only on the continent. When he was fifteen it was back to Scotland, there to enroll in the family trade. (They got to work faster back in the day.) He got a living at Cramond Kirk, six miles northwest of Edinburgh, where he is said to have fixed a pretty under-performing operation.
He was your basic mens sana in corpore sana sort of fellow, albeit in the most dignified manner possible. In the warmer months, he hung with the Royal Company of Archers. In the winter, the Edinburgh Skating Society, a young organization (first of its kind, in fact) of enthusiasts where he would fit right in – all those frozen canals back in Rotterdam. Suitable exercise for a vicar. Dignified. You don’t imagine this figure doing sow cows or even much in the way of jumps.
When not improving the body, he was exercising the mind. He scribbled away on various topics, not least of all the Dutch and their peculiar ways. Natives of the Low-lands at that time, he tells us, played a game they called “kolf”, if you can credit it. (Not quite the game you’re thinking of.)
He was credible enough to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, chaplain to the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Speculative Society, which puts him in the company of the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Adam Smith. Also the painter Sir Henry Raeburn. Which gets us back to the painting.
For such a ubiquitous painting, it’s surprising that the thing was only shown publicly in 1949.