The Daughters of Sir Walter Scott

Oil Painting
1817 (painted)
The Daughters of Sir Walter Scott thumbnail 1
The Daughters of Sir Walter Scott thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Place Of Origin

An oil portrait of Sir Walter Scott's daughters.

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on panel
Brief Description
Oil painting depicting 'The Daughters of Sir Walter Scott' by Sir David Wilkie. Great Britain, 1817.
Physical Description
An oil portrait of Sir Walter Scott's daughters.
  • Estimate height: 11in
  • Estimate width: 4.75in
  • Frame height: 465mm
  • Frame width: 310mm
  • Frame depth: 70mm
Marks and Inscriptions
'D Wilkie 1817' (Signed and dated by the artist)
Credit line
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857
Object history
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Extract from Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xviii.

John Sheepshanks (1784-1863) was the son of a wealthy cloth manufacturer. He entered the family business, but his early enthusiasms were for gardening and the collecting of Dutch and Flemish prints. He retired from business at the age of 40, by which time he had begun collecting predominantly in the field of modern British art. He told Richard Redgrave RA, then a curator in the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) of his intention to give his collection to the nation. The gallery built to house the collection was the first permanent structure on the V&A site, and all concerned saw the Sheepshanks Gift as forming the nucleus of a National Gallery of British Art. Sheepshanks commissioned works from contemporary artists, bought from the annual RA summer exhibitions, but also bought paintings by artists working before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. The Sheepshanks Gift is the bedrock of the V&A's collection of British oil paintings, and served to encourage many other collectors to make donations and bequests.

Historical significance: Sir David Wilkie R.A. (November 1785-1841) was born at Cults, which is about twenty miles north of Edinburgh. His father was the minister there and his maternal grandfather owned the mill at Pitlessie. His formal artistic training began when he was fifteen and his family sent him to the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh; this was the earliest publicly funded art school in Britain. He moved to London in 1805, and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 at the age of only twenty. His painting "The Village Politicians" was a sensation and he was immediately something of a celebrity. He went on to become internationally recognised, his paintings of everyday life, with strong narrative themes, peopled with expressive characters and packed with eye-catching details, hugely popular with the public. He was made a full member of the Royal Academy in 1811, was appointed Painter to the King in 1830 and was knighted in 1836.

This small oil on panel, signed and dated 1817, is a sketch of the two daughters of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the renowned and prolific historical novelist and poet. Anne and Sophia Charlotte are shown in the costume of milkmaids for the painting "The Abbotsford Family" (1817) which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1818; now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (PG 1303).

Wilkie had first met his fellow Scotsman, Sir Walter Scott, in London in 1809. But on a visit to Scotland in 1817 Wilkie was invited to meet with Scott again at Abbotsford, Scott's country home near Melrose, about 35 miles south-east of Edinburgh. He was asked by a friend of Scott's, Sir Adam Fergusson, to paint a group portrait of the family, which then became known as "The Abbotsford Family". The final painting showed Scott seated in a landscape setting, with friends such as Fergusson, and his family gathered around. In 1827 Scott wrote about the painting, explaining that Wilkie had adopted the idea "to represent our family group in the garb of South country peasants supposed to be concerting a merry-making". This meant that Wilkie's sketch of Scott's two daughters, Sophia and Anne, shows them as country milkmaids, barefoot and carrying buckets. As Scott noted "The young person most forward in the group is Miss Sophia Charlotte Scott, now Mrs John Gibson Lockhart, and, her younger sister Miss Anne Scott. Both are represented as ewe milkers, with their leglins, or milk pails."

There are marked differences between the sketch and the finished painting. In the sketch the faces of the two sisters are more clearly and individually rendered, and the arm of one sister is not raised and partly obscuring the figure of the other. In the sketch only one sister holds a small, discrete pail, and unlike in the finished work neither holds the pail on their head. The sketch is in fact far more fresh and naturalistic than the rather contrived finished work, which itself has the character of an oil sketch.
Historical context
This is one of eight works attributed to David Wilkie (1785-1841) which were given to the Victoria & Albert Museum by to the collector John Sheepshanks (1784-1863) in 1857, only 16 years after Wilkie's death. But although Sheepshanks and Wilkie were contemporaries and Sheepshanks knew personally many of the artists whose work he owned, it seems likely that the works attributed to Wilkie in Sheepshanks' collection were not purchased directly from the artist .
Subject depicted
Accession Number

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record createdSeptember 14, 2006
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