The painting depicts the tenants of the Jacobite Earl of Seaforth and his rent collector, Colonel Donald Murchison, who were hiding from the redcoats across the loch. During the period of the Jacobite risings, the Earl was exiled to France but his rent collector remained loyal and ensured that his tenants payments were sent to him. The Colonel, belonging to the Clan Mackenzie, led them to victory over the government in the Battle of Glen Affric and the Battle of Coille Bhan in 1721, allowing the clan to retain their land.
This oil on canvas painting, which measures 122.00 x 265.00 cm, was commissioned by the rent collector’s grandson, Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, who was a geologist and the President of the Royal Geographical Society. Interestingly, the figure of the Colonel sporting a breastplate was modelled by his grandson for this painting. The painting is held in storage at the National Gallery of Scotland.
Rent-day in the Wilderness is one of many paintings by the British artist and sculptor that shows his remarkable talent and unique technique of painting animals. Edwin Landseer was particularly popular in his time for his ability to paint animals that were anatomically accurate and showed personality. This painting features numerous horses and dogs, for which the artist is most well-known and whose lifelike posturing and emotive appearances add to the despair of the displaced tenants who are in hiding, just under the noses of the redcoats. In this painting, Landseer uses the loch to illustrate the political and religious divide that separates the two groups of people who share a magnificent country.
Similar works by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer include Highland Music, A Scene at Abbotsford and A Dialogue at Waterloo. Like many Landseer paintings, reproductions of Rent-day in the Wilderness has become a favourite in many homes, especially those of animal lovers, across the United Kingdown and the United States of America, where the popularity of the artist has not diminished since the 1800s.