Study of dancing figures for 'The Penny Wedding', ca. 1818
Sir David Wilkie RA (1785 - 1841)
RA Collection: Art
On free display in Collection Gallery
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).
This drawing relates to 'The Penny Wedding' (1818; Royal Collection), a painting commissioned from Sir David Wilkie by George IV as a companion piece to 'Blind Man’s Buff' (1812; Royal Collection). The subject is a nostalgic depiction of a traditional Scottish wedding c. 1770, at which guests donated a penny each to fund the festivities. It is a complex composition with many figure groupings which required the artist to produce numerous preparatory drawings, including these examples.
Wilkie's biographer, Allan Cunningham, described the composition of the finished painting:
'The manners and customs and character of old Scotland reign and triumph in it: the demure looks of the people, till music and liquor kindle them up; the mirth accompanied by decorum; the grave humour of the old, and the modest, nay bashful manners of the young, are stamped on every individual face and group, not in tartan, as painters of the South erroneously limn Scottish character... All the glee and modest joy of the elder poets of Scotland are in the picture of Wilkie with none of their lasciviousness, for the absence of which it is said that the Prince hardly forgave him, for he loved a joke which touched on the delicate line of decorum. To the composition of this picture the painter called all his knowledge of character and all his skill in expressing it; and it cannot be denied that it breathes with life throughout its length and breadth'.
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