The effects of drunken behaviour was a subject particularly associated with George Cruikshank. After a bibulous youth he became a fervent advocate of the teetotal cause. This picture of the Highland Whisky Still was undoubtedly intended as a message against the vices of alcohol. He undertook a series of prints - The Bottle, (1847) which preached the virtues of temperance and the evils of drink and it culminated with a vast painting The Worship of Bacchus. His watercolour entitled Cold, Misery and Want Destroy their Youngest Child (1847; London, Victoria and Albert Museum) creates a haunting image of the poverty which was so associated with the effects of alcoholism.
It is possible Cruikshank looked for inspiration to Sir Edwin Landseer's An Illicit Whisky Still in the Highlands (1829; London, Victoria and Albert Museum), in which the lawless behaviour of the distiller and his family achieves a heroic abandonment and carelessness reminiscent of the days long before spirits were ever taxed or excise officers invented. It was also a subject treated by Sir David Wilkie who had set his work in Ireland, The Irish Whisky Still (1840; Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) also shows the clansman holding up a glass to taste whilst family members crowd around the central furnace.
This picture appears to be a study for a larger version, the whereabouts of which is currently unknown. For additional details on the artist see lot 87.