Sir William Quiller Orchardson, R.A., H.R.S.A. (1832-1910)
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Sir William Quiller Orchardson, R.A., H.R.S.A. (1832-1910)

'The Queen of the Swords' A dozen cutlasses, selected hastily from an old arm-chest, and whose rusted hue bespoke how seldom they left the sheath, armed the same number of young Zetlanders, with whom mingled six maidens, led by Minna Troil; and the minstrelsy instantly commenced a tune appropriate to the ancient Norwegian war-dance, the evolutions of which are perhaps still practised in those remote islands. The first movement of the dance was graceful and majestic, the youths holding their swords erect, and without much gesture; but the tune, and the corresponding motion of the dancers, became gradually more and more rapid - they clashed their swords together, in measured time, with a spirit which gave the excercise a dangerous appearance in the eye of the spectator, though the firmness, justice, and accuracy with which the dancers kept time with the stroke of their weapons, did, in truth, ensure its safety. The most singular part of the exhibition was the courage exhibited by the female performers, who now, surrounded by the swordsmen, seemed like the Sabine maidens in the hands of their Roman lovers; now moving under the arch of steel which the young men had formed, by crossing their weapons over the heads of their fair partners, resembled the band of Amazons when they first joined in the Pyrrhic dance with the followers of Theseus. But by far the most striking and appropriate figure was that of Minna Troil, whom Halcro had long since entitled the Queen of Swords, and who, indeed, moved amidst the swordsmen with an air, which seemed to hold all the drawn blades as the proper accompaniments of her person, and the implements of her pleasure. And when the mazes of the dance became more intricate, when the close and continuous clash of the weapons made some of her companions shrink, and show signs of fear, her cheek, her lip, and her eye, seemed rather to announce, that, at the moment when the weapons flashed fastest, and rang sharpest around her, she was most completely self-possessed, and in her element. Sir Walter Scott, The Pirate, chapter 15.

Details
Sir William Quiller Orchardson, R.A., H.R.S.A. (1832-1910)
'The Queen of the Swords'

A dozen cutlasses, selected hastily from an old arm-chest, and whose rusted hue bespoke how seldom they left the sheath, armed the same number of young Zetlanders, with whom mingled six maidens, led by Minna Troil; and the minstrelsy instantly commenced a tune appropriate to the ancient Norwegian war-dance, the evolutions of which are perhaps still practised in those remote islands.

The first movement of the dance was graceful and majestic, the youths holding their swords erect, and without much gesture; but the tune, and the corresponding motion of the dancers, became gradually more and more rapid - they clashed their swords together, in measured time, with a spirit which gave the excercise a dangerous appearance in the eye of the spectator, though the firmness, justice, and accuracy with which the dancers kept time with the stroke of their weapons, did, in truth, ensure its safety. The most singular part of the exhibition was the courage exhibited by the female performers, who now, surrounded by the swordsmen, seemed like the Sabine maidens in the hands of their Roman lovers; now moving under the arch of steel which the young men had formed, by crossing their weapons over the heads of their fair partners, resembled the band of Amazons when they first joined in the Pyrrhic dance with the followers of Theseus. But by far the most striking and appropriate figure was that of Minna Troil, whom Halcro had long since entitled the Queen of Swords, and who, indeed, moved amidst the swordsmen with an air, which seemed to hold all the drawn blades as the proper accompaniments of her person, and the implements of her pleasure. And when the mazes of the dance became more intricate, when the close and continuous clash of the weapons made some of her companions shrink, and show signs of fear, her cheek, her lip, and her eye, seemed rather to announce, that, at the moment when the weapons flashed fastest, and rang sharpest around her, she was most completely self-possessed, and in her element.

Sir Walter Scott, The Pirate, chapter 15.
signed and dated 'W Q Orchardson - 77' (lower right)
oil on canvas
33 x 53 in. (83.8 x 134.6 cm.)
Provenance
J.G. Sandeman, Glasgow.
James M. Keiller, Dundee.
with The French Galleries, London and New York.
Mrs R.W. Patterson.
with David and David, Inc., Philadelphia.
with Frederick W. Thom Gallery, Toronto, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Literature
Times, 5 May 1877.
Art Journal, 1877, p. 199.
Athenaeum, 1877, vol. I, p. 646.
H. Blackburn (ed.), Academy Notes 1877, London, 1877, pp. 21-22, illus.
Illustrated London News, 19 May 1877, p. 474.
H. Blackburn, An Illustrated Catalogue of Painting and Sculpture in the British Fine Art Section, Universal Exhibition, Paris, 1878, p. 39, illus. p. 39.
Magazine of Art, 1878, vol. I, p. 127, illus.
E. Strahan (ed.), The Chefs-d'oeuvre d'art of the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1878, p. 92, illus. facing p. 92.
A. Painter, 'Art at the Paris Exposition', Scribner's Monthly, December 1878, vol. XVII, no. 2, p. 280.
Magazine of Art, 1881, vol. IV, p. 228, illus.
W. Armstrong, Scottish Painters: A Critical Study, London, 1888, p. 86.
J. Stanley Little, 'The Life and Work of William Q. Orchardson, RA,', Art Annual, 1897, pp. 23-24, illus. p. 23.
Scribner's Magazine, April 1897, p. 406.
A.G. Temple, The Art of Painting in the Queen's Reign, London, 1897, p. 306.
C. Monkhouse, British Contemporary Artists, New York, 1899, pp. 172-175.
Windsor Magazine, 1906, illus. p. 23.
J.L. Caw, Scottish Painting, Past and Present 1620-1908, Edinburgh, 1908, p. 237.
Masterpieces of Orchardson, London, 1913 (no text), pl. 39.
The Bulletin of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts, 25 December 1920, vol. 24.
H. Orchardson Gray, The Life of William Quiller Orchardson, RA, DCI, HRSA, PSPP, London, 1930, pp. 12-96, 273 & 351, illus. opposite p. 80.
Walter R. Sickert (ed. O. Sitwell), A Free House, London, 1947, p. 72.
Apollo, December 1974, p. 527.
D. & F. Irwin, Scottish Painters At Home and Abroad 1700-1900, London, 1975, p. 340.
M. Girouard, Sweetness and Light: The 'Queen Anne' Movement 1860-1900, Oxford, 1977, p. 138.
W. Dickson, 'The Collectors: Malcolm and Christopher Forbes in London', Architectural Digest, April 1979, illus. p. 112.
W. Hardie, Scottish Painting 1837-1939, London, (date unknown), p. 55.
R. D. Altick, Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, Columbus, (date unknown), pp. 435, 474, pl. 323.
Exhibited
London, Royal Academy, 1877, no. 174.
Paris, Exposition Universelle, 1878, no. 191.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1879, no. 251, lent by J.G. Sandeman.
Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute, 1882, no. 33, lent by J.G. Sandeman. Dundee, 1883, no. 160, lent by John M. Keiller.
Edinburgh, International Exhibition, 1886, no. 1689.
London, Earls Court, 1897.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1910, no. 138, lent by the Keiller Trustees.
Glasgow, 1911.
On loan to the Brooklyn Institute of Arts, 1920-1922.
Edinburgh, The Scottish Arts Council, Sir William Quiller Orchardson RA, 1972, no. 27.
The Art and Mind of Victorian England, 1974, no. 38.
The Royal Academy (1837-1901) Revisited, 1975-6, no. 51.
The Pre-Raphaelite Era, 1976, no. 4-39.
Buxton, Derbyshire, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Sir Walter Scott and the Visual Arts, 1979.
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Sir William Quiller Orchardson, 1980. no. 7.
32 Victorian Paintings from the Forbes Magazine Collection, 1981.
Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute, 1882: A 1982 Revival at the Fine Art Society, 1982.
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Lot Essay

Orchardson read all of Scott's novels as a boy, but does not appear to have re-read them as an adult. In this picture he has taken Scott's description of the sword dance as a starting point for his depiction of a startlingly beautiful heroine, based on Minna Troil, one of the sister heroines of Scott's novel The Pirate. Whereas Scott's episode takes place in Zetland (Shetland) in the seventeenth century, Orchardson's rendition is set firmly in the 1760s, and is commensurately more decorous and sedate. The swordsmen are two less than in Scott's description, and their swords are far from rusty, although the critic of the Times drew attention to the aura of age permeating the picture. He thought it 'delightful in tone like all the painter's work, but like all his work [it] suggests rather the delineation of a long disused mansion with rotted floors and worm eaten tapestries than a well preserved well-ordered house of the period to which the manners and costumes belong. So the two musicians hoisted on the table look painfully shabby. Still the tone of the picture and the grace, if occasionally Bohemian and delabré grace, of the figure, carries off all the mustiness of their surroundings'.

In one of his inimitable antiquarian notes Scott recorded that the sword dance was 'celebrated in general terms by Olaus Magnus. He seems to have considered it as peculiar to the Norwegians, from whom it may have passed to the Orkneymen and Zetlanders with other northern customs'. Again Orchardson has used the sword dance merely as a starting point: the Scottish country dance being practised in his version is one known simply as 'Triumph'.

The picture was a considerable success for Orchardson, and ensured his election as a full Academician. The Art Journal noted: 'The artist has been wonderfully happy in his choice of subject, and just as felicitous in carrying it out'. The painting can be seen as the last of Orchardson's subjects taken from Scott and Shakespeare, and the first of his later works which reflect the refined social life of the 18th Century. It also reveals his debt to earlier Scottish masters, notably Sir David Wilkie, from whose The Penny Wedding of 1818, the figures at the left of the composition, both the seated spectators, and the raised musicians, are derived. Orchardson's preliminary sketches are now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (see figs. 1, 2 and 3).

A youthful prodigy, Orchardson entered the Trustees' Academy, Edinburgh, when only thirteen and studied under John Ballantyne and Robert Scott Lauder (see lot 305). He painted in Edinburgh, mainly scenes from Shakespeare, Scott, Dickens and Keats, until his arrival in London in 1862. In his later career he turned his hand to the psychological dramas of upper class life by which he is best remembered, such as Mariage de Convenance (Glasgow Art Gallery) and its sequel Mariage de Convenance - After (Aberdeen Art Gallery).
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