The sitter, George Harley Drummond of Stanmore, Middlesex, and Drumtochty, Kincardine, was the great-grandson of the founder of the family banking house, Drummonds of Charing Cross, London. His mother, Martha, died in 1788, and his father, George, a banker with extravagant habits, died the following year, leaving three small children. George Harley married Margaret Munro, daughter of Alexander Munro, merchant of Glasgow, in 1801, when he was seventeen. They had two sons, George (1802–1851) and Henry (born 1812), the elder of whom is depicted as a child in another portrait by Raeburn in the Museum's collection (50.145.31). George Harley Drummond was excluded from the family bank, and “ruined his life by gambling and dissipation” [Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel, The Drummonds of Charing Cross, London, 1967, pp. 115–20]. By 1821 he had abandoned his family and was living with Sarah Drury, the wife of a naval officer. Eventually he fled to Dublin to escape his creditors and died there in 1855. Sarah, who called herself Mrs. Drummond, erected a monument to him in Dublin’s Mount Jerome cemetery and is buried beside him.
Reynolds had mastered the genre of the dismounted equestrian portrait, and Raeburn was perhaps familiar with similar compositions that Reynolds had employed for his lifesize full-length portraits of both George, Prince of Wales (Lord Lloyd Webber collection), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784 and engraved in 1793, and John Manners, Marquess of Granby (versions in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and the Royal Collection), which was also engraved. In 1788–89 Raeburn had painted a three-quarter-length of Captain Patrick Miller (National Gallery of Art, Washington) in a similar pose, with his horse. What sets the others apart from the present work is that in each, the head of the horse is behind or beside the head of the man. Here the horse crops grass, one leg hidden, and the head, in shadow, is hardly visible. Drummond's pose is straightforward by comparison with the complex, foreshortened view of the horse, its hindquarters so prominently displayed. The low horizon line also contributes to the rather startling effect. A similar portrait of the same size and with a low horizon, but with the composition reversed, is that of David Macdowall-Grant (sold, Sotheby's, New York, January 17, 1985, no. 139). The MMA portrait is usually dated shortly before 1810.
[2010; adapted from Ref. Baetjer 2009]