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David Cox and Peter de Wint
Cox and de Wint are the two artists whose mastering of the medium of watercolour sets them apart from many of their contemporaries. De Wint's broad deep-toned washes, and Cox's robust under-drawing give them a timelessness that today still begs the accolade of anticipating the Impressionists, not only in their response to light, time, and weather conditions but also in their interpretation of the medium and experimentation with different papers.
Both artists came from modest beginnings and enjoyed considerable commercial success. Cox was born in Birmingham and first studied at a drawing school run by Joseph Barber, before being apprenticed to a toy painter in 1798 where he was paid to decorate the lids of snuff boxes and lockets with miniatures. By 1800 he was working at the Birmingham Theatre, initially mixing colours for the scene painters then painting scenes himself. In 1804 he moved to London where he continued to work in various theatres until 1808, when following his marriage he decided to focus on watercolour painting and teaching, which became the key source of his income. Two years later he was made President of the Associated Artists in Watercolours, and exhibited there from 1809 - 1812, when he moved to the Old Water-Colour Society, of which he had been elected an associate and where he continued to exhibit for the rest of his life.
In 1814 Cox became drawing master at the military Academy at Farnham followed by another teaching post at a girl's school in Hereford then various other schools in Hereford as well as taking in private students. During the holidays he would make regular sketching tours, particularly to North Wales, which became a favoured destination. Cox is particularly associated with his atmospheric landscapes of the English countryside but this did not stop him from travelling abroad. His first foreign tour was in 1826 to Holland and Belgium, then Paris via Calais and Amiens in 1829 and Dieppe and Boulogne in 1832. On his return from his first foreign trip he had moved back to London and his teaching practice flourished. Further sketching tours were undertaken to Yorkshire in 1830, to Derbyshire in 1831, 1834,1836, and 1839 and Wales again in 1837, Kent in 1838 and Lancashire in 1840.
The following year he returned to Birmingham, and spent the rest of his life at Harborne. From the 1840s Cox focused more on his oil painting and passed much of his teaching practice on to his son. During the 1840s and 1850s he visited Wales more regularly on his sketching trips and was particularly drawn to North Wales and Bettws-y-Coed in particular, which he returned to almost annually between 1844 and 1856. In response to the demand for his teaching skills Cox published a number of teaching manuals including A Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Watercolour, 1814, A Series of Progressive Lessons in Watercolours, 1816 and The Young Artist's Companion, 1825.
The success achieved by his teaching practice (he was able to charge one guinea a lesson, from as early as 1827) enabled him to become increasingly experimental as he got older, leading to the extraordinary freedom of expression he achieved in his late work of the 1850s.
De Wint was born in Stone in Staffordshire. In 1802 he was apprenticed to John Raphael Smith, the mezzotint engraver, where his fellow apprentice was William Hilton his future brother in law who introduced him to Lincolnshire which became his favourite sketching ground. In about 1805 he met John Varley who influenced his painting technique enormously, it was at about this time that he began to visit Dr Monro's Academy in Adelphi Terrace. Here he first saw the work of Thomas Girtin who was another key influence on his early work. In the following years he exhibited at The Associated Artists, 1808-9, and at the British Institution, irregularly between 1808 and 1824, but the key place where he showed his work was at the Old Watercolour Society to which he sent over 400 drawings between 1810 and 1849. De Wint only ventured abroad on one occasion and that was to Normandy in 1828. Largely he remained in his native England and Wales as he loved the landscape of Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Like David Cox, de Wint enjoyed a successful career as a drawing master and would stay each summer with one of his patrons such as the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle, the Earl of Powis, the Marquis of Ailesbury, the Clives of Oakley Park, Ludlow, the Heathcotes of Connington Castle, the Cheneys of Badger, Shropshire, Walter Ramsden Fawkes of Farnley, Yorkshire among many others.
Other than his views of Lincoln, de Wint's subject matter is largely that of river and harvesting scenes often with a broad panorama and a low horizon, sometimes hemmed in at the extremities by masses of woodland.
Like his contemporary David Cox, de Wint's work enjoyed a wider freedom of expression towards the end of his life. Both artists were able to become increasingly experimental as they were sufficiently established, through the success of their respective practices and the sale of their work, not to be overly concerned by the public's response. It is often the later work of both artists that is most sought after by collectors today.