About this artwork

Wilkie was born in the village of Pitlessie in the parish of Cults, Fife. Here, he gazes straight out at the viewer, just as he would into the mirror to paint this striking self-portrait, made when he was twenty. He had by this time demonstrated his remarkable ability to portray contemporary events and with this work confirmed his skills as an accomplished portrait painter. Wilkie grips a portfolio in one hand and his pencil holder in the other. His fashionably tousled reddish hair and brown jacket stand out subtly from the similarly toned background. He may have painted the work just before his move from Edinburgh to London in 1805.

Sir David Wilkie

Sir David Wilkie

Wilkie achieved international recognition for his highly original paintings of events and episodes from contemporary life. His skills as a narrator were evident in the facial expressions and poses of his characters, and in the informative detail he included. He was born in Fife, the son of a rural minister and began his formal artistic training at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh when he was fifteen. He then moved to London in 1805 and became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1811. He was appointed Painter to the King in 1830 and knighted in 1836.