Thomas Faed, R.S.A., R.A. (Gatehouse of Fleet 1826 - London 1900)

Jeanie Deans

signed and dated 'Faed/ 1859' (lower left)
oil on canvas
44 x 32.5 cm (17¼ x 12¾ in)


The figure in the present work is taken from, what is widely considered to be the finest of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, The Heart of Midlothian (1818). The book is set against the backdrop of the Edinburgh riots of 1736, which were ignited by the brutality of the Captain of the Guard, John Porteous. Young nobleman George Staunton leads a mob into Old Tolbooth Prison (the titular ‘Heart of Midlothian’) in order to lynch Porteous, and liberate his lover Effie Dean, who has been unjustly accused of infanticide. Effie refuses to escape, and the second volume opens with her trial and condemnation. Effie had concealed her pregnancy from her family and from her lover, Staunton, and is presumed to have murdered the infant to continue her deceit. In actuality, the child had been stolen by an ex-lover of Staunton. Jeanie Deans, her sister, has the opportunity to save Effie by lying about whether she was told of the pregnancy, but her deeply held religious convictions and moral certitude prevent her from doing so.

Jeanie Deans sets out from Edinburgh to walk to London, to seek an audience with the Queen and a pardon for her sister. It is on this quest that Thomas Faed has chosen to depict our heroine, stepping out into the Scottish landscape, her plain clothes and lack of shoes a reflection of her Presbyterian Covenanter upbringing. Faed has depicted Jeanie as clearly as Scott described her:

‘She was short and rather too stoutly made for her size, had grey eyes, light coloured hair, a round good humoured face, much tanned with the sun and her only peculiar charm was an air of inexpressible serenity which a good conscience, kind feelings, contented temper, and the regular discharge of all her duties spread over her features.’¹

Faed has ably captured this air of serenity, and in addition, not only do her clear eyes and focused expression show us a woman of a zealous moral rectitude and religiosity, so rigid that she could not perjure in order to save her sister’s life, but we are also shown a woman with a determination so clear that she would walk the length of the country in order to save her. In fact, Faed has captured here the likenesses of two women, as Scott based Jeanie’s narrative on a real woman, Helen Walker.

Jeanie Dean reaches London after a series of encounters, not least with the babysnatcher and her mother, who has sold Effie’s child to a vagrant woman, as revenge for Staunton’s seduction of her daughter. Jeanie is aided by the Duke of Argyle, who secures her a successful interview with the Queen. In the final volume, Jeanie marries a Presbyterian minister, and Effie marries Staunton. Years later, Staunton goes in search of his lost child, and is killed by an outlaw who, it transpires, is his own son.

Sir Walter Scott was proclaimed by his contemporaries as ‘the greatest original author of the nineteenth century’,² and described as the equal of Homer and Shakespeare. His writing inspired a generation of artists, and, between 1805-1870, over three hundred painters and sculptors exhibited over 1000 works based on his stories and poems.³ These works must have encompassed the multiplicity of Victorian Art, his detailed plots lending themselves to the popular narrative driven genre scenes of the day, and his complex, forthright characters inspiring portraitists, as is evident in the present work. Most notably, his work was an inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites, who were influenced by the romanticism, myth and medievalism inherent in his work.

Faed studied as an artist in Edinburgh, alongside his brother John Faed (1820-1902), and became ARSA at the age of just 23, before moving to London in 1852, where he spent the rest of his life. He became one of the most successful artists of his day, his carefully detailed scenes of contemporary life, and of Scottish history, greatly appealing to the Victorian public. He exhibited over 100 works at the Royal Academy and was made an Academician in 1864.

¹ Scott, Sir W., The Heart of Midlothian, 1818, p.38.
² ‘Scott Centenary Festival’ in Illustrated London News, 5th August 1871.
³ Gordon, C. ‘The Illustration of Sir Walter Scott: Nineteenth-Century Entusiasm and Adaptation’ in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XXXIV, 1971, pp.297-317.