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This painting illustrates an incident in the life of Robert the Bruce (1274–1329). The Scottish king and his brother Edward, while campaigning against the English in Ireland, were retreating before a powerful pro-English army in Ireland. Bruce halted the army and prepared to fight in order to save a laundress, weak after childbirth, rather than abandon her to his pursuers. Bruce is the embodiment of compassion and, as the title indicates, humanity and the incident has been referenced in literature from John Barbour's poem 'The Brus' (completed in 1376) to Sir Walter Scott's 'The Lord of the Isles' (1815) and novel, 'Tales of a Grandfather' (1828).
William Allan, a contemporary of David Wilkie, played a leading part in establishing a Scottish school of painting in Edinburgh both as teacher and practicing promoter of Scottish history painting.
Heroism and Humanity
oil on canvas
H 127 x W 196.9 cm
gift from William S. Steel, 1909