Sir William Allan

The Black Dwarf (1831)

About this artwork

Sir Walter Scott’s tale ‘The Black Dwarf’ first appeared in ‘The Tales of My Landlord’ in 1816. Its central character was based upon the historical figure of David Ritchie. Hounded by mockery of his physical deformity, ‘Bow’d Davie’ took refuge in the Manor Valley in Peeblesshire where he built a curious cottage of stones and turf. After meeting Scott about 1818, Allan became his protégé, close friend and favoured illustrator. By 1827, when this picture was commissioned by the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland, Allan had established himself as the leading narrative painter of Scottish history. His particular approach towards the presentation of Scotland’s past frequently paralleled the literary reconstructions of Scott.

Sir William Allan

Sir William Allan

Born in Edinburgh, Allan was apprenticed to a coach painter before studying at the Trustees' Academy in the city from 1799; David Wilkie was a fellow student and became a lifelong friend. Allan went to London in 1803 to continue his studies, possibly at the Royal Academy. In 1805 he went to Russia, where he was based until 1814, travelling widely in the region. On his return, he settled in Edinburgh where he painted scenes inspired by his travels as well as subjects from Scottish history and Sir Walter Scott's novels. He was appointed Master of the Trustees' Academy in 1826, elected President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838 and became the Queen's Limner for Scotland in 1841, the year he was knighted.