Sir David Wilkie's The Blind Fiddler (1806) exemplifies the genre painting that was antithetical to the Academy-favored classical style of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The image realistically depicts the humble enclosures of a lower-class family's home as they listen to a blind man play his fiddle. Both Sir Joshua Reynolds and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took issue with Wilkie's image. although Reynolds opposed the elevation of subject matter, the PRB took issue with what they thought was a degradation of technique. The scene might have brought about an emotional response in viewers that functions quite differently than the multi-faceted -- or, as the PRB would have argued, superior -- spiritual and emotional response that the Pre-Raphaelites favored.


1. Does this image tell a story? Does it seem to have a moral message? What kind of audience would it appeal to? Would the viewer need any background or religious knowledge to appreciate or understand the image?

2. What kind of emotional response do you think Wilkie's image intends to evoke? How does the image bring about this response? Solely through subject matter?

3. Why is this a genre painting? Why might it be considered sentimental?

4. Why might the Pre-Raphaelites argue that this kind of genre painting was degrading to realism? What did they find inherently more valuable in a simultaneous emotional and spiritual reaction to a painting, brought about by a fusing of religious symbolism and realism?

5. How does light function in this image? Does it create motion? Does it make the image seen any more or less Pre-Raphaelite?

Victorian Web Visual Arts Painting Discussion Questions

Last modified 12 September 2004