While he was still in Edinburgh, Orchardson's early work included literary subjects from Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, and themes from Scottish history. More significantly, in terms of style and composition, Orchardson's early historical works reveal the influence of Sir David Wilkie.
In 1862 Orchardson moved to London, where he shared a studio with John Pettie, and together these two artists were quickly recognised by critics as members of the new ‘Scottish school', sharing characteristics of subject-matter, style, technique and composition. Throughout his career Orchardson shared technical and compositional devices and exchanged ideas about subject-matter with Pettie. They also had a similar compositional approach, using the drama of empty spaces and light-coloured backgrounds. Orchardson was elected ARA in 1868, an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1871 and RA in 1877. He was a candidate for the presidency of the Royal Academy in 1896 and was knighted in 1907.
Orchardson produced cavalier and Regency costume pieces. He became famous for subjects from the Napoleonic era, and for contemporary upper-class psychological drama. He also painted portraits in a similar technique. His thinly applied paint was often considered sketchy or unfinished by contemporary critics more attuned to the solid finish of the English Pre-Raphaelite manner, but Whistler admired Orchardson's tonally subdued palette. His preparatory method involved delicate, full-scale charcoal studies, a collection of which is in the National Gallery of Scotland.
W. Armstrong: The Art of William Quiller Orchardson (London, 1905)
Sir William Quiller Orchardson, RA (exh. cat., ed. W. R. Hardie; Scottish Arts Council, 1972)
Sir William Quiller Orchardson (exh. cat., ed. L. Errington; Edinburgh, N.G., 1980)
Master Class: Robert Scott Lauder and his Pupils (exh. cat. by L. Errington, Edinburgh, N.G., 1983)
CATHERINE M. GORDON
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