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The Huntington acquires the David Wilkie painting 'Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth'

November 3, 2010 | 10:47 am

Wilkie-photo The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens owns notable works by Turner and Constable but did not possess a major painting by another influential 19th century British artist, David Wilkie, until now.

The San Marino institution said  Wednesday it had purchased "Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth" (1835), which comes from the collection of publishing executive Christopher Forbes.

"Opportunities to buy anything by Wilkie, let alone a major finished picture, are extremely rare," said John Murdoch, the Huntington's director of art collections. He describes the acquisition as "a gorgeous painting well known both from its former presence in one of the great private collections of British art and from scholarly literature. For us, it satisfies a long-felt need."

The Scottish-born Wilkie established himself in London as a popular genre painter and became a favorite of King George IV. "He sort of blazed across the sky of artistic Europe in the first years of the 19th century," said Murdoch, who added that "out of his promotion of genre at the highest level of academic painting comes the whole of what you might call the obsession of painting with narrative in European academies in the first half of the 19th century."

In the mid- and late 1820s, Wilkie -- whose work reflected the influence of the Dutch masters and his Scottish roots -- found new inspirations while visiting the continent, especially Italy and Spain. He produced a number of paintings with Spanish subjects, including "Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth," which depicts the peasant squire of Cervantes' 17th century novel "Don Quixote" as a boy.

After his travels, Wilkie adopted a lusher, broader style --one that was not embraced by all. "There was a little bit of the shock of the new there," Murdoch said. In a way, he added, "it's more interesting to see the continuities in his practice and vision," including his skills as a draftsman and "what's very much a genre view of history painting that he's carrying out in his later work."

"The later part of his career marks a hugely increased ambition that he does not want to be pigeonholed in what he did as a very young man," Murdoch said.

The Huntington declined to disclose the purchase price of "Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth." The painting has been installed in the Huntington Art Gallery.

-- Karen Wada


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Photo: "Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth" (1835), by David Wilkie. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens