David Wilkie

Overcoming hardship and difficulty: Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841)

Sir David Wilkie was a Scottish artist who painted historical subjects and portraits. He overcame financial hardship when he was first starting out and became a renowned and successful artist in his lifetime. He gained influential patrons such as government ministers and even the Prince Regent of the time, the future King George IV. He was admired by Samuel Smiles as an example of finding success through hard work, application and perseverance.

Success is work not genius

Smiles described how Wilkie was so poor he could not afford a pencil or canvas, but taught himself how to draw on a barn door or in smooth sand by a river. Smiles described Wilkie as 'a silent boy, he already displayed that quiet concentrated energy of character which distinguished him through life.'

Wilkie was rejected when he first applied to study art at the Scottish Academy in Edinburgh on account of the poor quality of his paintings. However, he persevered in producing better paintings until he was finally admitted. But his progress was slow. Nevertheless, he dedicated himself to drawing the human form and was determined to succeed with an unshakeable confidence that the result would be much better.

Professional success

After Wilkie became a successful painter, he credited his success to his industry and perseverance so much so that his motto was 'Work! work! work!'.

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