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OR, MONTHLY REPORT or
A UG US T, 1808.
The memoirs of Mr. Macklin, having been published in two large volumes to them we refer our readers for a full account of this very singular character. The few pages we could devote to the subject would very imperfectly trace the outlines of a life, so full of interest and variety.
MR. DAVID WILKIE, Is a native of the northern division of our island, where his father is minister of Coults, a small village in the county of Fife. Here, we believe, he was born in the year 1786, and after receiving the best education his father had it in his power to give him, he was placed in 1801 at the academy of Mr. Graham, in Edinburgh, to study drawing. In this pursuit, to which it is more than probable that he was directed by some secret propensity, he made such a proficiency, that he was soon distinguished above all his companions for his drawings from the antique; and in 1803 he obtained the premium for the best historical drawing. .
The first finished oil-painting that he is known to have produced exhibits a representation of a fair at his native village. Into this piece he has introduced about one hundred and forty figuręs, many of which are portraits,
Among these are his father and several of the farmers and rustics of the village, whose likenesses he took at church, for which profane conduct, as the rigid presbyterians would deem it, very heavy complaints were made to the father of the youthful artist. The number of figures in this picture appears, at first sight, to be su great, that the spectator would suppose there could not be less than five hundred; yet the management of the various
groups and of the light and shade is so excellent, that he has bustle and tumult without confusion, and the eye is agreeably led through the various scenes of rustic merriment without being fatigued.
This delineation of the whimsical incidents of a country fair, in which young Wilkie displayed great talent for humour, was executed at a time when he knew little of the method of painting in oil, and for this reason it has not that clearness of touch so conspicuous in his subsequent productions. He shewed it, when finished, to his instructor, Mr. Graham, who was highly astonished to see so superior a performance by so young an artist, and earnestly advised him to prosecute the study of that department of the art, adding, that it was the path in which he would be certain to excel. This picture, we have been informed, was purchased of him for fifty guineas by the lady of Mr. Whitbread.
Eager after improvement, and desirous of availinga himself of the resources afforded by the metropolis, Mr. Wilkie repaired to London early in the year 1805, and became a student of the Royal Academy. Here he devoted hiinself with extraordinary assiduity to the study of the profession he had adopted. As he was unable to find purchasers, even at very low prices, for pictures executed in the style in which he so highly excels, he was at first obliged to confine his percil to portraits.
His talents were thus buried in obscurity till the exhibition of the Royal Academy in '1806. Some time prior to this he had received a commission from Lord Mansfield to paint a picture from any subject he might think proper. Mr. Wilkie selected one from Macniel's celebrated poem entitled Scotland's Scaith, or the history of Will and Jean. All who are acquainted with the work must acknowledge that he could not have made a inore judicious choice of a scene, as it forms one of the inost prominent features in the poem, which is intended to enforce the idea, that excessive drinking and po
litics are the scaith or bane of the lower classes of the community in Scotland.
This picture represents a scene of the politicians of lower life, collected in a public house, after the labors of the day, disputing upon some point of politics which may be supposed at that moment to have interested every class of society, and to have found its way into the shop of the mechanic, and the cottage of the husbandman.In the principal group the light falls on Will, a young carpenter, who from, the shrewd winking of his eyes, the expression of his mouth, the extended arm, with the acute angle of the wrist, and the end of the fore-finger on the table, happily conveys a self-approbation of the sagacity and superiority of his mind over those of his hearers. He appears to be engaged in warm dispute with a figure on his left hand, who seems extremely anxious for an opportunity to reply; but the carpenter, determined to proceed, is directing his discourse to a venerable-looking man who sits opposite to him with spectacles on his nose, and apparently acts as umpire between the cootending parties. Close to Will's opponent, at the farther end of the table, is placed another figure, who seems to be carelessly balancing the argument with a knife with which he has been carving the bread and cheese that lies upon the table, together with drinkingvessels, &c. The figure of the two disputants are admirahly characteristic of the conceit which a little knowledge produces upon vulgar minds; they evince great observation of rustic nature and the influence of the little heats of parties and politics on such as would naturally be supposed beyond the sphere of their operation.
The countenance of Will, as well as every part of his figure is extremely expressive; he appears to be exerting all his powers to convince his antagonist, who, on the contrary, seems to be thoroughly satisfied of the fallacy of his arguments, and only wants an opportunity to expose it. The expression in the countenance of the umpire is most exquisitely delineated; he appears cool, deliberate, and candid, as if weighing maturely the question in agitation, Indeed, we have no hesitation to assert, that this bead was never excelled even by Teniers himself. In a half tint, behind Will, sits an old man reading a newspaper, which Macneil describes as the
Gazetteer, a violent anti-ministerial print published at Edinburgh, and which powerfully tended to iutlaine the minds of the people. The expression of the face of the reader, indicates with great felicity his composed and settled acquiescence in the conclusions of his own mind, and his undaunted adherence to his own opinions, amidst the din of his battling associates. He is easy and quiet, and thinks for himself; while another inau in the opposite part of the picture, is scratching his head, seemingly sensible, that he does not possess the haranguing eloquence of the carpenter, but tolerably confident in his own mind that he is the best informed man in the room. Several figures in the shadow lounging about the fire, several of which are engaged in dispute, form the subordinate group of this excellent performance. Nearer the fore-ground, is a child eating something of which a dog seems very desirous of partaking, and close to them stands a bench, under which are kitchen utensils. In the opposite corner of the room is the landlady coining out of a closet, with bottles, &c. to furnish her customers with a fresh supply of liquor. A fine gloomy repose pervades the back-ground and the figures in shadow, and gives astonishing brilliancy to the principal group.
This rare display of juvenile talent, was sent by our artist to the exhibition of the Royal Academy, for 1806, where it shone like a star of the first brilliancy among the productions by which it was surrounded. At the dinner which, it is well known, is annually given by the Royal Academy, previous to the opening of the exhibition, to the most distinguished amateurs and other emiñent characters. Mr. Angerstein, the munificent patron and consummate judge of the fine arts, instantly discovered the merits of Mr. Wilkie's performance. He called to the attention of the Prince of Wales and the other gentlemen present, as to an extraordinary phenomenon in modern painting, declaring that it possessed all the spirit of a Teniers, accompanied by the humour of a Hogarth. “Such an encomium from such a man would, doubtless, have been highly flattering to the most renowned artist : the reader may then judge how soothing how encouraging must have been its effect on the mind of a mere youth, whose name was yet totally unknown, and was now just emerging from obscurity. Nor was this all, the public unanimously coincided in the sentiments