William Quiller Orchardson

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Sir William Quiller Orchardson (27 March 1832—13 April 1910)[1] was a noted Scottish portraitist and painter of domestic and historical subjects who was knighted in June 1907, at the age of 75.


Early years

Orchardson was born in Edinburgh, where his father was engaged in business. "Orchardson" is a variation of "Urquhartson," the name of a Highland sept settled on Loch Ness, from which the painter is descended.

At the age of fifteen, Orchardson was sent to Edinburgh's renowned art school, the Trustees' Academy, then under the mastership of Robert Scott Lauder, where he had as fellow-students most of those who afterwards shed lustre on the Scottish school of the second half of the 19th century. As a student, he was not especially precocious or industrious, but his work was distinguished by a peculiar reserve and an unusual determination that his hand should be subdued to his eye, with the result that his early works reach their own ideal as surely as those of his maturity.

By the time he was twenty, Orchardson had mastered the essentials of his art, and had produced at least one picture which might be accepted as representative, a portrait of sculptor John Hutchison. For the seven subsequent years he worked in Edinburgh, some of his attention being given to a "black and white" style, his practice in which having been partly acquired at a sketch club, which, in addition to Hutchison, included among its members Hugh Cameron, Peter Graham, George Hay and William McTaggart.

The years in London

In 1862, at the age of thirty, Orchardson moved to London, and established himself at 37 Fitzroy Square, where be was joined twelve months later by his friend John Pettie. The same house was afterwards inhabited by Ford Madox Brown. The English public was not immediately attracted to Orchardson's work. It was too quiet to compel attention at the Royal Academy, and Pettie, his junior by four years, stepped before him for a time and became the most readily accepted member of the school. Orchardson confined himself to the simplest themes and designs, to the most reticent schemes of colour. Among his most highly regarded pictures during the first eighteen years after his move to London were "The Challenge", "Christopher Sly", "Queen of the Swords", "Conditional Neutrality", "Hard Hit" - perhaps the best of all - and, within his own family, portraits of his wife and her father, Charles Moxon. In all these, good judgment and a refined imagination were united to a restrained but consummate technical dexterity. During these same years he made a few drawings on wood, turning to account his early facility in this mode.

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