About this artwork

Painted when Wilkie was just nineteen, this ambitious 'portrait' of the annual May fair in Pitlessie Village demonstrated his remarkable talent and the kind of painting in which he was to excel. Its subject and character were radical departures from the established conventions of history painting, although it was equally demanding in its compositional organisation and variety of figures. Wilkie was inspired by examples of seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish paintings and also by Scottish folklore and cultural traditions celebrated in contemporary literature. He met with immediate success in London with this as his showpiece, prompting several prestigious commissions.

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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.