Initially destined to follow his father into the medical profession, Peter De Wint, who had displayed a passion for drawing since childhood, managed to persuade his parents to allow him a career in art. In 1802, he arranged an apprenticeship with John Raphael Smith, an engraver who excelled in mezzotint. The contract was set for eight years; however, a growing association with the watercolorist John Varley prompted De Wint to purchase his release just half way through the obligation. His relationship with Varley introduced him to the informal academy operated by Dr. Thomas Monro, where he worked along side other artists who were developing an interest in watercolor, including Thomas Girtin, whose approach strongly influenced De Wint, as it had Varley earlier. Because of his ties to the Monro Group, he was asked to join the Society of Painters in Water Colours, with which he exhibited annually between 1810 and 1818, and again from 1825 until his death in 1849. Unlike most of the members of the Society, De Wint remained comfortable showing, and studying, at the Royal Academy as well, where his long-time housemate and future brother-in-law, William Hilton, was firmly established.
The Palmer Museum is fortunate to hold two paintings by De Wint that demonstrate the range of technique practiced by many artists during the Golden Age of British watercolors. To the right, In Windsor Great Park represents the quick sketch, executed directly out-of-doors in perhaps as little as fifteen minutes in order to capture the fleeting effect of a brilliant noontime sun. De Wint drew these by the hundreds, and regardless of the seemingly tentative quality, successfully marketed such sheets throughout his career. Warwick Castle, on the other hand, was intended as an “exhibition watercolor.” De Wint began the composition with a swiftly washed drawing, created on the spot, which is now housed in the British Museum. This sketch, together with whatever other studies he would have made of the subject sur le motif, were later consulted in his studio during the creation of the large, richly colored and highly finished painting on view here. Likely mounted in a linen liner and gilded frame, Warwick Castle would have more than held its own against any oil landscape that accompanied its public debut, quite possibly at one of the Royal Academy’s annual exhibitions during the mid-1820s.