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Sir David Wilkie RA, Study for 'The Breakfast'

Study for 'The Breakfast', ca. 1817

Sir David Wilkie RA (1785 - 1841)

RA Collection: Art

The Breakfast (Private collection) was dismissed by critics as a painting with 'no interest'. Wilkie himself claimed that, 'it has no story in it, but…it affords me the means of conveying an idea…of the most complete English comfort'. He neglected to mention his closely observed and lightly comic portrayal of the interaction between the young maid and her watchful mistress. This study for The Breakfast is loosely painted in wash but the old woman's face and intense expression are depicted with a clarity that reveals Wilkie's mastery of detail and his accomplishment as a draughtsman.

One of Scotland's most celebrated artists, David Wilkie made his name with lively genre paintings in the Dutch tradition. He studied in Edinburgh before moving to London and the Royal Academy Schools in 1805. Immediate success followed and his popularity reached its height with Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Gazette of the Battle of Waterloo (1818-22, Apsley House), which attracted such a throng of admirers at the Royal Academy that a barrier was needed to protect it.

In 1825 Wilkie suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by bereavement and overwork. Unable to paint he embarked on a Grand Tour that developed his interest in Italian and Spanish painting. The effect of these travels is displayed in his later work which became broader and more ambitious. Wilkie died in 1841 returning from the Middle East, an event commemorated by Turner in his sombre tribute Peace - Burial at Sea (1842, Tate Britain).

These drawings by Sir David Wilkie are all mounted in an album of studies probably put together by the artist's brother. According to the artist and Royal Academy librarian Solomon Hart 'they are a portion of a series of sketches of pictures, which he [Wilkie] from time to time sent to a brother, an officer in the Indian Army. He, it seems, used to give them to his brother-officers' children, who bedaubed them with common watercolours. Such as escaped I had the good fortune to acquire for the Academy, from a sister of some of these juvenile artists' (Alexander Brodie ed., The Reminiscences of Solomon Alexander Hart R.A., London, 1882, p.66)

Included in the album are sketches relating to some of Wilkie's best-known works including 'The Penny Wedding' (1818; Royal collection), 'The Breakfast' (1817; Private collection) and 'Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Gazette of the Battle of Waterloo' (1818-22, Apsley House).

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Object details

Study for 'The Breakfast'
Sir David Wilkie RA (1785 - 1841)
ca. 1817
Object type
Watercolour on off-white laid paper

114 mm x 79 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Sophy M. Patton in 1871 and Solomon Alexander Hart RA in 1871
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