Sir David Wilkie

The Irish Whiskey Still

About this artwork

This painting was produced after Wilkie's visit to Ireland in 1835. He compared Ireland to Spain as a picturesque, wild and romantic place. The whiskey still shown here is an illegal one. Critics gave this picture a moralising slant, claiming it demonstrated human deterioration under the influence of strong drink. This was probably not Wilkie’s intention, as he was entranced by the primitive aspects of Western Ireland. Rural people who refused to recognise British laws as legitimate distilled whiskey illicitly to avoid taxes. Government authorities often saw this sort of law breaking as political dissent, and branded many rural tax avoiders or poachers as criminals. Wilkie almost certainly intended this painting to be a social ‘portrait’ of Irish life, which in the long term would have the significance of a history picture. The current condition of the picture is poor due to excessive bitumen scarring in the shadows. The gallery also has a sketch for the child pouring the whisky into a barrel. A smaller earlier version of this scene exists in a collection in Riga, Latvia.

Sir David Wilkie

Sir David Wilkie