Sir William Quiller Orchardson RA (1832/5-1910)

The painter William Quiller Orchardson was born in Edinburgh in 1832 or 1835 (older texts give the latter date), studied art at the Trustees' Academy, and came to London in 1863. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from that year, and was elected ARA in 1868, and RA in 1877. Orchardson's early work included various subjects from Shakespeare and other historical genre, but later he painted society pictures, concentrating on showing tense scenes of middle or upper class life. These pictures are very distinctive - deliberate use of wide empty walls and floor space, a couple of figures made dramatic by position rather than gesture, and a subdued use of colour - pale browns reds, and greenish-yellows, rather sneered at by some contemporary critics, e.g. 'the brownish principle which Mr Orchardson has applied to almost every subject he has painted'. He was much respected by his fellow academicians, and supposedly turned down the Presidency of the Royal Academy. His popularity was greatest in the 1880s.

Orchardson had two pictures in Henry Tate's collection, now in the Tate Gallery - Her First Dance and The First Cloud (1887) - a particularly excellent example of his work, showing piglike husband, and wife staring out of window. The Young Duke (1888) and a picture Napoleon in exile on St Helena (1916) are in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. A Social Eddy, Toilers of the Sea and The Broken Tryst are all in the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

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