Wilkie’s Portrait of Abraham Raimbach (1818)

If you study the work of a minor painter, first decide - following EPPH - whether the creator is an artist. This is not just a question of quality. I suspect John Singer Sargent, a painter of exquisite craft, was not really an artist, a  'visual poet of philosophy.' One can never  know because the failure may be ours'. However, evidence of such poetry in several images does identify an artist because others will likely yield the same result. David Wilkie, a painter of Victorian scenes whose work I do not know well, is today's choice. Like many once-famous painters, he is out-of-fashion today. Yet he may still be an artist.

Abraham Raimbach, his sitter at left, engraved many pictures by Wilkie. Is there philosophy in his simple portrait?

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Captions for image(s) above:

Wilkie, Portrait of Abraham Raimbach (1818) Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, London

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The answer, in my eyes, is yes. Whether actually similar or not, Wilkie has painted Raimbach's face in the same shape and proportions as his 1813 self-portrait. Their lips match too, as does the improbable verticality of their forelocks. Thus Wilkie appears to use Raimbach's identity as his own: one illustrator as another. This method, common in art, is often used to convey a fundamental belief of the Inner Tradition: that, in essence, we are all one. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Abraham Raimbach (1818)
R: Wilkie, Detail of Self-portrait (1813) Oil on panel. National Portrait Gallery, London

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And a supporting detail lies partly obscured in his sleeve. Regular readers will know that the eye (intellect) and the hand (craft) are often linked in visual philosophy. It may be accidental but an eye-form is positioned just to the left of his active hand holding the burin. If intentional, it would communicate that Wilkie's craft proceeds from his perception, one dependent on the other.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Abraham Raimbach
Bottom: Diagram of detail above showing possible eye-form on sleeve
Both have been lightened to make the marks more visible.

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His other hand resting lightly on his copperplate as though just touching it recalls a visual code in art. Touching signifies "painting" or here "engraving". This hand, for no apparent reason brighter than the other, is in the lower right-corner where signatures traditionally go: thus Raimbach's hand and Wilkie's too. Softly reflected in the polished plate, this hand seems to convey the idea, seen both in art and the Inner Tradition, that what we see is our own self-reflection, as Wilkie would in the image itself. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Abraham Raimbach (1818)

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Wilkie, as I will show shortly, uses similar methods in his portraits of royalty thereby confirming that he knew at least some of art's hidden traditions. Their appearance in his portraits strongly suggest that his now-unfashionable genre pictures, which I do not know well, might be lessons in philosophy too because, in my experience, such content is never confined to one or two works by an artist, but is present throughout their mature work. Someone should study Wilkie because his reputation is totally at odds with what this portrait reveals.

Captions for image(s) above:

Wilkie, Portrait of Abraham Raimbach (1818)

Click image to enlarge.

More Works by Wilkie

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 26 Feb 2014. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.