The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Quiller Orchardson, 1832-1910

Nationality: Scottish
Date of Birth: 1832.03.27
Place of Birth: Edinburgh
Date of Death: 1910.04.13
Place of Death: 13 Portland Place, London


William Quiller Orchardson was a genre and portrait painter and illustrator. He married Ellen Moxon in 1873.


Orchardson studied at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh along with Thomas Faed, James Archer and Robert Herdman. He also studied there later under Robert Scott Lauder when his fellow pupils included John Pettie, Thomas Graham, John MacWhirter and Peter Graham with whom he formed a circle in London from 1862. Orchardson's early work, which was influenced by David Wilkie, included historical genre and literary subjects from Shakespeare, Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. He later turned to cavalier and Regency costume pieces and to psychological dramas of contemporary upper-class life, e.g. Le Mariage de convenance (1883; Glasgow Art Galleries and Museums). He also painted portraits and worked as an illustrator for magazines such as Good Words.

Like JW, Orchardson painted in muted colours and his thinly applied paint was often considered sketchy and unfinished by contemporary critics. However, he was admired by JW, and in turn Orchardson considered JW to be a great artist (#04341). He travelled to Venice in 1870, a decade before JW was to make the trip, and again in 1873 on his honeymoon, there painting Venetian genre subjects.

In 1889 Orchardson sat on a committee headed by W. C. Symons which was set up to organise a dinner to congratulate JW on being made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Munich, a dinner which was to be held at the Criterion in Piccadilly on 1 May 1889 (#05636). On the occasion of this dinner Orchardson was amongst those who stood up and gave a speech in JW's honour (#09656). In 1891 Orchardson's help was enlisted for a petition to secure JW's Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) for the city of Glasgow (#06018, #06023).

Orchardson exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1863, as well as at the British Institution, Grosvenor Gallery and New Gallery. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1868, becoming a full member in 1877. In 1871 he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, in 1897 a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and in 1900 an honorary member of the Royal Miniature Society. He was a member of The Arts Club from 1866 until 1909. He was knighted in 1907.


Armstrong, W., The Art of William Quiller Orchardson, London, 1905; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Hardie, W. R. (ed.), Sir William Quiller Orchardson, R.A., Scottish Arts Council, 1972; Errington, L. (ed.), Sir William Quiller Orchardson, Edinburgh, 1980; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1971; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Maas, Jeremy, The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984; Walkley, Giles, Artists' houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994; Gordon, Catherine M., 'William Quiller Orchardson', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 19 February 2003).