Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 29 May 1875, lot 136 ("La Vie Domestique"), to Polak for £50;
A.B. Yuille, Bellevue, Bridge of Allan;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 6 February 1909, lot 59 (Domestic Felicity), to Field for £18, 18s;
J. R. Edmiston, by whom acquired 19 February 1969;
With Ian McNicol, Glasgow;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady'), Edinburgh, Christie's, 30 April 1986, lot 240, to Peter Nahum, on behalf of John Robertson;
Robertson Collection, Orkney, thence by descent.
A. Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie, 3 vols, 1843, vol. III, p. 530.
Wilkie set out on his belated Grand Tour in the summer of 1825, precipitated by a recent bout of ill-health. Having spent two winters in Italy recovering his faculties he travelled through Germany, Switzerland and France, finally reaching Spain in October 1827. The artist was deeply influenced by his time in Spain – both by the works of the Old Masters he saw in the galleries of Madrid, the Escorial and Toledo; and by the culture and history, both recent and ancient, of the country.
Despite this, only four known paintings by Wilkie produced in Spain survive, three of which were bought by King George IV almost immediately upon the artist’s return to England (all three remain in the Royal Collection). The artist’s imagination continued to be fired by subjects from Spanish history and literature long after he returned to England, however, and Spanish subjects featured prominently among the works Wilkie exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1830 and 1835.
This freely painted but exquisitely delicate little work is such a picture and is one of a series of five subjects painted by Wilkie in the mid-1830s that have upper-class female domestic life as their theme, including The Fist Ear-ring (1835, Tate Gallery, London), and The Bride at her Toilet (1838, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh). The work depicts a noble lady, her infant child and the child’s nurse in a richly adorned bedroom interior, dramatically lit, with a strong sense of chiaroscuro, from an unseen window on the left. The standing noble lady wears ermine robes, denoting her high status, a traditional Spanish mantilla on her head and carries a fur muff. She has clearly returned home from some official engagement. The infant, obviously delighted at its mother’s return, attempts to escape the clutches of the nurse maid who has been keeping the child entertained and is about to feed it, judging by the bowl and spoon on the table to the right. At their feet a lap dog resembling a small greyhound – another indicator of social status – scratches itself excitedly behind the ear. Despite the grand setting and elevated social status it is, in many ways, a timeless and universal scene of domestic bliss and familial affection.
The subject demonstrates the influence of the Dutch masters, such as Gerard ter Borch, Johannes Vermeer, and Gabriel Metsu, whose work Wilkie had so admired at the Louvre; whilst the costume and handling are evidence of the artist’s protracted study of Italian and Spanish painters. Wilkie’s model for the noble lady appears to be the same as that for the principal figure in both The Bride at her Toilet and The First Ear-ring. The latter also has a similar disposition of figures; with a comparable dog scratching itself and the same brass ewer and basin lower right (though in this picture they are partly obscured by the red table cloth). The inscription on the back of the picture, written in French, gives instructions for the painting never to be varnished, strongly suggesting that it was painted for, and sent directly to, its first owner, Juan Peyronnet in Toulouse. Wilkie’s work was popular with Continental collectors – his studio in Madrid had been particularly well visited by the Spanish nobility – and he had a number of prominent patrons across Europe.
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