The Illicit Highland Whisky Still. Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A., c. 1829. Oil on panel. H 80 x W. 101.5 cm. The painting is in the Wellington Collection, Apsley House, English Heritage. Acquisition no. WM.1532-1948. Photo credit: Historic England Archive. Reproduced here by kind permission of Apsley House. [Click on the image to enlarge it. See here for a closer view of the central figures.]

Lounging in the left-hand corner, with his legs slung over his booty — a dead stag — a hunter in his plaid holds an empty glass and probably waits to be served more at the make-shift distillery dug into the hillside. The whisky-distiller leans over behind him, chatting to his customer, while his son (perhaps) has an eye both to the converaation and the process going on in the background. Two children look on. The huntsman's dog rests his head trustingly on his master's thigh, and two other dogs complete the picture (note also, though, the goat on the slope above them). The huntsman looks solid and hearty, even if tired now. The rest are poor (the children have bare feet) but the "business" seems to be keeping them from the direst straits of poverty, despite their ramshackle surroundings. The distiller in particular looks cheerful, with a keg under his arm. The boy also holds some dead game-bird behind his back. Landseer's empathy with man and beast is all on display here, along with his intimate knowledge of the Highlanders and their ways. The Art-Journal of 1879 says, "His pictures of men are all good, his Highlanders especially, and his study of the illicit distiller in 'the Highland Whisky-still' is a masterpiece of character" (362).


"Hogarth and Landseer, Part Landseer as a Humorist." The Art-Journal, Vol. 5 (1879): 361-65. Google Books. Free Ebook.

Created 13 April 2022