This powerful ad vivum study was made by David Wilkie in 1817. The head of an old woman was made from an unknown sitter, Wilkie regularly made such bold, intensely worked portrait studies of models he met in the street.
In October 1808, Wilkie noted in his journal: ‘I walked out to try and find a person as a model for my picture, and had the good fortune to find one before I had gone the length of the street.’ The drawing made on that occasion of an old woman in black and white chalk on buff paper, now in the National Gallery of Scotland, formed the basis for Wilkie’s depiction of the grandmother in his finished painting The Cut Finger. The present drawing was made whilst Wilkie was preparing his great painting The Penny Wedding which was finished in 1818 for the Prince Regent and is now in the Royal Collection. Whilst this beautiful, rapidly finished drawing cannot be related to a finished composition, it provides powerful evidence for Wilkie’s working method. This drawing appears to have originally belonged to William Shee who studied law at Edinburgh University; he was later knighted and is notable for being the first Roman Catholic judge to sit in England since the Reformation.