Ross Muir

And the Skating Minister

Glasgow-based artist Ross Muir uses his paintings to recreate traditional and iconic artworks with a contemporary twist. Born in 1981, Ross Muir grew up in Alexandria in the Vale of Leven, Scotland before moving to Glasgow in 2009; he was 30 when he started painting. His practice evolved from a sort of escapism, and his technical ability went from strength to strength. From Adidas tracksuits to witty slogans, Muir coaxes art history into the modern world, making paintings more relatable (and more fun) for viewers today. He has reimagined masterpieces by the likes of van Gogh, Mattise, and Picasso, but it was his reinterpretation of Sir Henry Raeburn’s ‘Skating Minister’ that caught my eye. 

Ross Muir - Skater Boi - courtesy of fairart.io

‘The Skating Minister’ is the affectionate nickname for ‘The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch’, painted by Raeburn* in the 1790s. The painting was never intended to be a finished work for public display – we know this because the subject and composition are so unusual for late eighteenth century portraiture. It was likely a study completed as an exercise, or just for fun. 

Surprisingly, it took 200 years for the painting to reach the spotlight. It was included in the National Portrait Gallery’s 1997 exhibition of Raeburn’s work and featured on the exhibition advertisements all over London. The playful subject, appealing colours, and unusual composition quickly won the nation’s hearts, and the artwork has been a symbol of Scottish painting ever since. 

*A debate surfaced recently that asserted the painting was actually by a French artist, Henri-Pierre Danloux.

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch - courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

But, as Ross Muir noticed, famous paintings from art history don’t speak to everyone. Even as an artist, he would see traditional, renowned, and celebrated paintings in museums and galleries, but could never really engage with them. They lacked relevance to his own life, and he struggled to bridge the gap between art history and the world we live in. He has likened his experience to kids nowadays watching black and white movies – they just don’t connect. 

Muir decided to reinterpret the Skating Minister for the modern age. He even renamed it after Avril Lavigne’s 2000s classic, ‘Skater Boi’. He made just enough witty tweaks – a smoking cigarette firm between the minister’s lips, white wired earphones (yes, like the ones you used to get before AirPods were a thing), and Adidas branding on the skates that looks surprisingly eighteenth-century, to bring the painting into the context of today (or, at least the 2010s). It is a wonderfully warm and witty way to encourage new audiences (and younger people in particular) to engage with art history. Muir’s technical ability doesn’t quite rival Raeburn, but that is not the point of the artwork. The landscape, the colours, the minister’s facial features – although these blur together slightly, perhaps frustrating the technique of one of Soctland’s greats, the work has its intended effect. It is not a work to be taken too seriously or overanalysed. It’s a bit of fun, and it breaks down the barriers that can make art seem dry and fusty. I think it’s brilliant. 

You can hear Muir discussing his inspiration for the painting on the National Gallery of Scotland’s free audio tour on Smartify.

Ross Muir - Wee Dali - courtesy of velveteasel.com
Ross Muir - Van Gogh Self Portrait
Ross Muir - Rabbie - courtesy of velveteasel.com
Ross Muir - American Gothic

Thanks for reading!

The Art Wanderer

Skip to content