True to Life - Drawings from William Allan's sketchbook

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William Allan painted as he lived: with romance, conviction and a sense of adventure. As a boy he dreamt of Robinson Crusoe, chalking scenes of seafaring and savagery on the floors of his schoolroom. "I will be a painter", he told his father, "despite all this learning of Latin." By 1795 the determined young Allan had left Edinburgh High School to take up an apprenticeship as a coach painter. His self-belief was soon vindicated by an obvious artistic ability; in 1799 he enrolled at The Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh and within four years had progressed to the Royal Academy in London.

In 1805 the wanderlust of his youth became a reality. From London he set sail for Russia, where he painted portraits of the aristocracy and lived amongst tribes from the remotest reaches of the Empire. His method was total immersion: he adopted their dress, spoke their tongue and went down in their histories as "the Scottish Raphael". The studies he made of these encounters - of Circassian princes, Turkish Pashas and Bashkir horsemen - make up a vivid record of his nine-year sojourn. Upon his return to Scotland in 1814 he worked up many of these studies into oil paintings.

Characteristically cautious, his fellow Scots were slow to perceive excellence in such exotic form. But Allan refused to retreat to the safe haven of portraiture, vowing instead to adapt the grand narrative schemes of his "Oriental" pictures to a new type of historical painting. Supported by his friend, Sir Walter Scott, he set about the same process of drawing from life - this time the fisherfolk of Leith and the gypsy travellers of the Borders - casting them in scenes that illustrated the defining moments of Scotland's past.

Whether Scottish or Oriental in subject, his greatest works are these gatherings of individuals: vast, densely-populated oil paintings, each the product of dozens of drawings that scrutinise the human condition. In all the variety of life he depicts, he seems to take no side: there are seldom heroes and villains in Allan's art; all are shown to be flawed. As observations of real people - of traits, gestures and mannerisms - the drawings seem to transcend time and place. The paintings, meanwhile, are strong evocations of situation: the particular commotion of a Constantinople Slave Market or the war-torn aftermath of Waterloo at precisely 7.30pm.

A Scottish patriot and a man of the world, William Allan died in 1850 true to both: a tartan bonnet on his head and a Bashkir blanket on his knee.

This virtual exhibition presents a selection of Allan's preparatory drawings along with an oil painting from the permanent collection.

Found 20 Results. Showing records 1 to 12. Page 1 of 2.

Head of a Turk - Study for Slave Market, Constantinople Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Bald Man - Study for Lord Patrick Lindsay of the Byres and Lord William Ruthven compelling Mary, Queen of Scots to sign her Abdication in the Castle of Loch Leven Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Bearded Young Man - Study for The Stolen Child Recovered Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Soldier - Study for The Landing of Mary, Queen of Scots at Leith Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Man Looking Down - Study for The Shepherd's Grace Sir William Allan View more >
Heads and Hands - Study for The Battle of Prestonpans Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Young Man Glancing Down - Study for The Battle of Waterloo Sir William Allan View more >
Girl, Finger to Mouth, Holding Toy - Study for The Landing of Mary, Queen of Scots at Leith Sir William Allan View more >
Girl with Outstretched Arm - Study for Dick Whittington and His Cat Sir William Allan View more >
A Tartar Horseman - Study for Polish Exiles on their way to Siberia Sir William Allan View more >
Young Girl - Study for Dick Whittington and His Cat Sir William Allan View more >
Head of a Circassian Chief - Study for Slave Market, Constantinople Sir William Allan View more >

Found 20 Results. Showing records 1 to 12. Page 1 of 2.