The son of a Birmingham blacksmith, David Cox possessed a constitution that was ill suited for work in a forge, so as a youth he was sent to study drawing with the noted landscape artist Joseph Barber. At the age of 15, he was apprenticed to a trinket manufacturer, for whom he painted miniature portraits and landscapes for lockets and snuffboxes. The apprenticeship ended abruptly just two years later—his master committed suicide in 1800—so Cox found work as a scene painter for theaters in Birmingham and, after 1804, London. After marrying in 1808, he quit the theater and, adopting watercolor as his preferred medium, settled into a career as a drawing master. He exhibited regularly from 1809, first with the short-lived Associated Artists in Water Colours, and then with the Society of Painters in Water Colours, which elected him a member in 1813.
Cox managed to support himself comfortably through teaching, mostly by taking private students but also by accepting numerous salaried appointments, including a position at a girl’s school in Hereford between 1814 and 1827. In 1841, he returned to his hometown of Birmingham, settling in the suburb of Harborne. Beginning in 1844, he summered annually in the small town of Betws-y-Coed in North Wales, and from there he traveled often in search of motifs among the numerous seaside resort towns that dot the northern coast, such as Rhyl, the subject of the watercolor on view here. Although the sheet is undated, it can be assigned with some confidence to 1854, the date of a second, nearly identical watercolor of the Rhyl sands that Cox is known to have painted in August of that year.