WILKIE, Sir David
(b. 1785, Cults, Fife, d. 1841, off Malta)


Scottish painter. He was trained in Edinburgh and then in 1805 moved to London, where he studied at the Royal Academy Schools. His Village Politicians (private collection) was the hit of the Royal Academy exhibition of 1806 and he established himself as the most popular genre painter of the day. He was strongly influenced in technique and subject-matter by 17th-century Netherlandish artists such as 0stade and Teniers, and the public loved the wealth of lively and often humorous incident in his paintings.

In 1825-28 he travelled abroad for reasons of health and his style changed radically under the influence particularly of Spanish painting, becoming grander in subject-matter and broader in touch. The change was regretted by many of his contemporaries. In 1840 Wilkie went to the Holy Land to research material for his biblical paintings and on the return journey died at sea; Turner commemorated him in Peace: Burial at Sea (Tate Gallery. London). Wilkie's success did much to establish the popularity of anecdotal painting in England and many Victorian artists were influenced by him. The esteem in which he was held was possible only in an age which looked first to the story of a painting and the moral lesson it contained.