George Barret was one of the leading Irish landscape painters of his generation. Born in Dublin, the son of a clothier, he was not originally intended to be an artist and was apprenticed to a stay maker and later coloured prints before going to the Dublin Society Schools under Robert West, where he won a first Prize in 1747. Early in his career Barret seems to have come under the influence of Edmund Burke. The latter probably saw Barret's prizewinning work when it was exhibited in the Parliament House, just across the way from Trinity College Dublin where Burke was an undergraduate. Burke, who was just a few years Barret's senior, had already acquired a reputation as a formidable orator and philosopher, and had begun work on his seminal Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, which was published in 1757. Burke's ideas of the sublime in nature may well have encouraged Barret to paint romantic scenery and it is said that it was Burke who first introduced the artist to Lord Powerscourt for whom he worked in the early part of his career in the Powerscourt demesne. This includes some of the most romantic reaches of the Dargle Valley and the famous waterfall itself, a landscape which inspired some of the artist's most successful compositions such as his View of Powerscourt House under the Sugar Loaf Mountain (British Art Center, Yale) and his Powerscourt Waterfall (National Gallery of Ireland, no. 174; Irish Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, I, Dublin, 2001, pp.43-6, no. 174, illustrated). Despite the quality of his work Barret found it hard to earn a living in Ireland and in 1763 he left Dublin with some of his finest pictures for London, where he no doubt hoped to find a wider market for his talents. In London he won a premium for a landscape at the Free Society's exhibition in 1764 and he soon established a considerable reputation for himself as a landscape painter becoming a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and establishing a network of important patrons many of whom considered his work to rival, and some to exceed, that of Richard Wilson.
The present picture appears in stylistic terms to predate Barret's move to London. The ruined tower house in the background of the picture also appears in one of the set of three landscapes which Barret painted for the second Marquess of Rockingham, to whom Burke was secretary, which were at Coolatin, Co. Wicklow, Lord Rockingham's Irish seat, until recently. Barret had been employed to draw these early remains of Killtimon Castle, Co. Wicklow, as a copy after his drawing survives in the Royal Irish Academy (see A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Ireland's Painters 1600-1940, London and New Haven, 2002, pp 134-5).
The old Dublin exhibition label on the reverse which is indistinctly inscribed has in the past been read as 'Henry ... Burleigh, Inch, Gorey, Co. Wexford' and it has been pointed out that at the International Exhibition of 1865, no. 62, was a landscape lent by Henry Devit.