THE pictures which Wilkie painted between 18o6 and 1825, and which all belong to what may be termed his first style, are no doubt those on which his fame will chiefly rest. His extraordinary ability in the composition of groups of figures and accessories, and in rendering truth of character and expression, is seen at its best in these earlier works; no painter has, perhaps, ever exceeded him in the deftness with which he could express the twinkle of an eye or the quiver of a lip.
After Wilkie’s visit to Spain in 1827, he adopted a change of style, for which no doubt the fascinating works of Velasquez were answerable. Such pictures as `The Maid of Saragossa’ and `The Preaching of John Knox’ still show his powers of composition standing him in good stead, and wherever he gets a chance he displays his old dexterity in the expression and character of the heads; though he is not nearly so much at home with lords or ladies or Spanish monks as he is with Highland pipers or Fifeshire peasants. At this period of his life he had become the abject slave of asphaltum, which seductive hilt treacherous pigment, though it might for a time produce something approaching the deep shadow tones of Rembrandt, would by no means help him to the somber and sedate grays of the mighty Spaniard. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Excited to a new departure in breadth of treatment by seeing the works of Velasquez, it is marvelous how Wilkie totally failed in catching the aspect and spirit of the Spanish master.
In one respect, indeed, he may claim resemblance to him, and that is in the intenseness of his nationality. Just as Velasquez was the very essence of a Spaniard, so Wilkie was the most Scottish of Scotsmen; he might almost be considered the Burns of art, for his picture of `The Penny Wedding’ breathes with the very soul of Burns, and he is never so successful in the expression of life and character as when the scenes and the people he represents are those of his native land.
( Originally Published 1906 )
Masters In Art – Sir David Wilkie:Sir David WilkieThe Art Of WilkieJ. E. Hodgson And F. A. Eaton , ‘the Royal Academy And Its Members’T. Silvestre ‘l’ Art, Les Artistes, Et L’ Industrie En Angleterre’The Works Of Wilkie