THE personages on David Wilkie’s canvases are portrayed as accurately as if seen through an object-glass. A figure by Hogarth is the portrait of a passion; a figure by Wilkie is the portrait of an individual. Hogarth paints what strikes his eye in order to deduce a moral from it; Wilkie paints what he sees in order to amuse and please. Hogarth’s work is a moral history; Wilkie’s is a familiar chronicle. One speaks to the mind; the other addresses the eye. In the English types which he paints Hogarth makes us acquainted with men of all times and all countries; in those same types Wilkie shows the characteristics of his nation. Hogarth is a psychologist as well as a painter; Wilkie is a painter, an excellent painter, but nothing more. He carries a truthful rendering of expression even farther than Hogarth, but his figures, instead of ex-pressing an idea, express a passing sensation. A man coughs, laughs, or drinks. Wilkie represents him coughing, laughing, or drinking in a perfectly natural waybut that is all. He is superior to Hogarth in execution; and yet Hogarth is more pleasing in his breadth of treatment, and even in his carelessness. Compare Wilkie’s `Blind Fiddler’ with Hogarth’s `Election Feast’ and you will see the difference.
Wilkie belongs to the amiable family of Teniers; but he excels the Flemish artist by the patient finish of his work and the depth of his color. He gives much thought to his pictures and arranges his most populous scenes in an orderly way, dividing them up according to episodes; Teniers’ compositions are for the most part scattered with a kind of disorder. Wilkie’s pictures are reportsliteral descriptions of what is going on in the house or on the street.
If you listen to an inquisitive man, a man who is curious about the affairs of others, who is minute to excess, whom nothing escapes and who feels that he must describe to you everything he has seen, everything he has observed in any house, or farm, or inn of the United Kingdom, he will give you every detail concerning the father, mother, children, grandparents, servants, the dog, cat, ox, sheep, horse, and ass; he will describe the pots and pans, the chairs, tables, and cupboards, and you will have before you the painter Wilkie; but if he omit a single board, stick, glass, or door-nail, then that man is not Wilkie.
There is only one way to express an opinion of this genius, so painstaking and so conscientious in depicting every little detail of nature, and that is to try to paint with words one of the subjects that he has related with his brush.
Wilkie introduces many contrasts into his works, perpetually balancing the different expressions of his faces, the attitudes, gestures, forms, ages, sexes, and temperaments. He possesses in the highest degree the power of giving life by gesture. You can almost hear the laughter in his `Blindman’s Buff;’ never were children more alive than are those in his picture `The Rat Hunters.’ His genius is like the sparkling genius of Ostade.
Wilkie excels in works of small dimensions; in large canvases he is seen to less advantage. His sketches are admirable; when, however, he carries them farther they are often spoiled by over-elaboration. He is and will always re-main a great painter; he is full of life and he imparts it to his works.FROM THE FRENCH
( 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