Raeburn was born in Stockbridge, now a part of Edinburgh, and educated at Heriot's Hospital. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to the goldsmith James Gilliland of Edinburgh. In his teens he bagan to paint watercolour miniatures of his friends and from there went on to life-size portraits in oils. When he turned 22, he married a wealthy widow and this enabled him in due course to spend two years studying and working in Rome. Back in Edinburgh, he set up his own studio in George Street. He was knighted in 1822 when George IV visited Edinburgh and the next year shortly before his death he was appointed 'His Majesty's first limner and painter in Scotland.'