The following passage immediately follows Waagen’s extensive praise of Wilkie quoted by the reviewer. — George P. Landow

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he annals of art certainly present few instances of an earlier attainment of eminence, and this in many of the qualities of finished execution which are usually the last results of practice and study. We own that, in contemplating the later productions of this distinguished artist, we revert with a sigh to such works as the Blind Fiddler and the Highland Still—to all we may say which preceded his journey to the Continent. We know not what ‘cantrip sleight' was cast upon him at Rome or Madrid, but, as to us it seems, he went there one of Nature's most accomplished votaries, and returned, comparatively speaking—for genius still shines in his least successful works—an eclectic imitator of painters, especially perhaps of Rembrandt, one of the greatest of his tribe, but as dangerous a model as artist can select. With such guidance, some of his pictures, the Cotter's Saturday Night, for in stance, of last year's exhibition, is little better than a study in one colour, and that colour after all as little like the rich brown of Rembrandt, as General Wolfe's small-clothes in West's picture are like the crimson vestments of a Titian cardinal.

That Sir D. Wilkie was ever attracted to portrait painting by the lucrative considerations which divert so much talent into that channel, we do not for a moment suspect. That caprice should have led him to batten on that field, we hold to be a national misfortune. Of all the portraits we have seen by him, we know but of three which we can contemplate with patience—those of Lord Tankerville and the late Lord Kelly, and the striking likeness of two sheathed swords in the small picture of the Duke of York. We speak thus freely of what we consider a misapplication of powers of the first order, because we can do so without fear of prejudice either to the fortunes or character of one whose reputation is established on great achievements. Aware, as we are, that Sir D. Wilkie has suffered much from ill health, and that the quantity of his works has probably been much restrained by that circumstance, we should have been utterly silent if we believed that the change which we lament in their quality were attributable to that or any cause beyond the artist's control. We see no of decay of power, but every indication of an experimental but deliberate change of system. [143-44]

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[Review of Waagen]. Quarterly Review 62 (1838): 131-61.

Waagen, G. F. Works of Art and Artists in England. 3 vols. London, 1838.

Last modified 28 November 2019