While a blindfolded man feels his way around a room, the many adults and children present try to remain just beyond his reach. A small boy cheekily tugs on the blindfolded man’s jacket. To the right, the commotion is used as an excuse to steal kisses and cuddles.
David Wilkie painted the original oil version of ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ in 1812. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year, having been commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV), who paid the considerable sum of 500 guineas for the work. The painting remains in the Royal Collection today. An oil sketch, made in preparation for the work, is in the Tate Collection.
In the early 19th century, blind man’s buff was considered a rural game, played by soldiers and peasants, while blindfolding was used in art as a symbol of spiritual or moral blindness. This depiction of a particularly unruly game of blind man’s buff can, therefore, be viewed as rich in allegory.
David Wilkie was born in Fife; the son of a vicar. He attended the Trustee’s Academy in Edinburgh from 1799 and enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1805. In the following year he received a commission for ‘Village Politicians’, which was hung in a prime position at the Royal Academy exhibition and attracted further important patrons. He was elected a full member of the Academy in 1811. His most widely-known work, ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington in 1820. Wilkie was appointed the King’s Painter in Ordinary in 1830. In 1840, he travelled to the Holy Land to gather material for biblical subjects. On the return journey he suffered a sudden illness and died. He was buried at sea, off the coast of Malta.
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