The subject is taken from Sir Walter Scott's novel The Heart of Midlothian, and the picture is referred to in the following extract from John Linnell's journal of 1835:
'Feb 27: Mr Melville came and com'd [commissioned] me to paint a subject from the Heart of Midlothian for 15 or 20gs. to be paid on delivery by Fisher & Co., Caxton Press.
March: Pro. [proceeded] all day with Picture of Jeanie Deans & Madge Wildfire, 12, 14, 20.
April 7: To Messrs. Fisher & Son Caxton Press Owens Row Goswell St. del'd [delivered] Picture of Jeanie Deans & rec'd [received] a draft for the money. 20gs.
As David Scrase has observed, Linnell included the picture in the sketchbook, now in the British Museum, in which he recorded all his major paintings, handing it over to his son shortly before his death. Under the year 1836 a thumbnail sketch appears (p.54) with the following inscription: 'Picture of Jenny Deans and Madge Wildfire in the churchyard. Painted for Messrs. Fisher & Son, Caxton Press for the new edition of Scott's works. Designed and painted by me J.L. Varnished (?) for Mr Bartholl (?). June 17/75.' No such edition seems to have been published.
We are grateful to Mrs Linnell Burton for her help in preparing this entry.