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Material relating to Sir David Wilkie

Identifier: Coll-1274

Scope and Contents

Within the collection there is an autograph letter signed to James Nairne, on the death of Lord Eldin, placed and dated as Kensington, London, 12 June 1832. The letter refers to 'The Edinburgh Society of the Sons of the Clergy' and how they 'have done me [mu]ch honor'. Also, at a meeting in London, James Nairne’s health was drunk, and his brother 'Capt Nairne' made 'an appropriate reply'. Nairne’s announcement of the death of 'our antient friend Lord Eldin' recalls for David Wilkie 'a volume of thoughts. He was the last of his kind, having neither likelihood, nor resemblance to any thing that survives him'. Wilkie goes on to refer to Eldin's 'probable state of affairs' and how this may 'lead to the dispersion, of his pictures' and whether it would 'be wise to send them to London'.


  • Creation: 1832


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but some material closed. Please contact repository for details about access to the collection in advance of any visit.

Biographical / Historical

The Scottish painter David Wilkie was born on 18 November 1785 at Cults, Fife. He went to school locally at at Pitlessie, and at Kettle, Fife. While at school he was able to exercise a drawing ability which was obvious at an early age. When he was fourteen, in 1799, he set off to Edinburgh, to the Trustee's Academy of Design in St. James's Square. While there he made progress in painting portraits and miniatures. In 1804 he returned to Cults and there he produced a painting of the Pitlessie Fair which made him very well-known. After a brief stay in Aberdeen, Wilkie sailed for London in May 1805 where he continued his studies. His painting of The Village Politicians brought him more attention and, of course, new commissions. On the death of his father in 1812, his mother and sister came to London to join him, and from 1812 the family lived in Kensington, initially at Lower Philimore Place.

Works by Wilkie include: The Reading of the will; The Highland family; Princess Doria washing Pilgrims' feet; Guerilla Council of War; Preaching of Knox before the Lords of the Congregation, 10 June 1559; The Duke of Wellington writing a despatch; and Napoleon and the Pope in Conference at Fontainebleau.

David Wilkie was knighted in June 1836. In 1840, he travelled to Istanbul (then called Constantinople) where he painted Abdul Medjid, the young Sultan, and then went on to Jerusalem in 1841. That year he set off home again reaching Alexandria on 26 April 1841, and there he painted Pacha Mehemet Ali. A month later he sailed again, but after departing from Gibraltar on 1 June 1841, he died. On account of the quarantine regulations of the period, Sir David Wilkie was buried at sea at latitude 36 degrees 20' north and 6 degrees 42' west.


1 letter

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Item purchased June 2010. Accession no: E2010.26.

Related Materials

The local paper-based Index to Manuscripts within Special Collections will provide information about a small number of Wilkie items located in other collections.

Processing Information

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

Material relating to Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841)
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379