The elegant formal dance performed in this picture contrasts with the lively jigs in ‘The Penny Wedding', yet both images reflect an interest in Scottish social life and traditions. This painting was inspired by a passage in ‘The Pirate', a novel by the famous nineteenth-century writer Sir Walter Scott. The country dance which Scott described required its female participants to pass under an arch of drawn swords. Orchardson was a Scottish artist who made his name in London. He is best known for his imaginary reconstructions of Shakespearean scenes, and of eighteenth-century history and social life. Whereas Scott's novel was set in the seventeenth century, Orchardson changed the action to the 1700s.
This is a finished study for a larger picture of the same title. The subject is based on a scene from Sir Walter Scott's historical novel ‘The Pirate’. It shows the heroine Minna Troil passing proudly below an arch of blades during a sword dance, while the other girls shy away. Orchardson was one of Robert Scott Lauder's pupils who moved to London. During the first part of his career he painted rural subjects and a number of illustrations to Scott. Later in life he turned to Regency scenes and episodes from modern life. This painting is the last of his subjects from Scott. Clear outlines and draughtsmanship are always distinguishing features of Orchardson's style.
Orchardson was an outstanding narrative painter, who deftly used body language and expression, as well as descriptive detail, to communicate feelings and mood. He was also a gifted portraitist. As a mature student of the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, he joined other talented students of Robert Scott Lauder, with whom he formed life-long and mutually inspiring friendships. In 1862 he moved to London where he shared a house and studio with fellow student John Pettie. His large, meticulous paintings of historical and contemporary subjects were much admired. In 1877 he was elected a Royal Academician and in 1907 knighted.