Born in Maidstone, the son of a builder, Goodwin studied under Arthur Hughes and Ford Madox Brown, who predicted in 1864 that he would 'become before long one of the greatest landscape painters of the age.' In the late 1860s he met Ruskin, and in 1872 they went painting together in Italy with Joan and Arthur Severn. Ruskin, like Brown, had the highest regard for Goodwin's work, even flattering him that he wanted him to give him 'a lesson in watercolour painting.'
But Ruskin would not have been true to form if he had not also dropped hints as to how his protégé's work could be improved. Many found Ruskin's advice irritating, or even totally destructive, but Goodwin believed that in his case it had been beneficial. Many years later he wrote: 'I owe much thanks to Ruskin, who ballyragged me into a love of form when I was getting too content with colour alone.' Certainly Goodwin's work shows a developement analogous to that prescribed in Modern Painters, progressing from a tight Pre-Raphaelite manner in the 860s and 1870s to a bold Turneresque idiom in the 1880s.
October is the earliest of the Goodwins in the Dawson Collection, dating from 1870 when the artist was twenty-five. William Michael Rossetti was still describing Goodwin that year as 'one of Mr Brown's pupils', but here he is already outgrowing the influence of Brown which is so strong in watercolours like Near Winchester of 1864 (see Pre-Raphaelite Vision, exh. Tate Gallery, 2004, cat. no. 51, illustrated) or the slightly later River at Dusk at Yale (Victorian Landscape Watercolours, Yale, Cleveland and Birmingham, 1992-3, cat. no. 63, illustrated). In fact October dates from the period when Goodwin was beginning to see much of Ruskin, and seems to betray his mentor's taste for more elevated and prepossessing subjects than Brown had favoured. There is even perhaps some foreshadowing of Turner's influence in this intensely poetic account of river and woodland wreathed in autumn mists.