McInnes began his career in Edinburgh, living at 38 George Street when he made his debut at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1834. Four of the six paintings he contributed were Italian subjects, including views of the Doges' Palace and St. Mark's Church in Venice; so no doubt he had already visited the country where he was to find such lasting inspiration. It was also at this date that he painted the portriats that are still in a number of Scottish private collections; his sitters included Thomas, 9th Earl of Haddington, William Graham of Airth, and the Rev. Patrick Murray Smythe. The young William Dyce, who was also painting portraits in Edinburgh in the 1830s, would have been a rival.
By 1843 McInnes had moved to London, establishing himself in Bloomsbury, the bohemian quarter of the day. In the mid-1840s he seems to have revisited Italy, but by 1846 he was back in London and two years later he settled in Kensington, a pioneering move since the quarter was not to be seriously colonised by artists until the 1860s. While seemingly retaining a foothold in the area, McInnes is recorded at Wem, Shropshire, in 1858-61, and at Tunbridge Wells in 1866. After this date he ceased to exhibit, and may have abandoned painting altogether.
Even before he moved south, McInnes had exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, apprearing there for the first time in 1841. He continued to show fairly regularly until 1866, as well as sending occasionally to the British Institution (1849-52). Meanwhile he still supported the R.S.A. (last exhibit 1855), and indeed he is generally regarded as a Scottish painter. James L. Caw included him in his book Scottish Painting Past and Present (1908). A self-portrait is in the National Gallery of Scotland, and one of his subject pictures in the Glasgow Art Gallery.
Caw treats McInnes as a historical painter, discussing him in a chapter devoted mainly to an older specialist in this field, Sir William Allan, and two slightly younger contemporaries, Thomas Duncan and Robert Scott Lauder. McInnes is said to have been a friend of William Bell Scott (although he does not feature in Scott's Autobiographical Notes, 1892), and certainly he sometimes chose historical subjects of the type that Scott favoured. Luther listening to the Sacred Ballad, exhibited at the R.A. in 1844 and twice on the London art market in recent years, is a good example. At other times he paints more conventional genre in the Wilkie manner, subjects of a certain social realism such as The Money Lender (1842), Enforcing the Sanitary Laws (1849), or Detaining a Customer (1850).
But McInnes's true love was Italian genre. He clearly had a real feeling for the country, responding to its warmth and colour like many a Scott before and since. Close parallels are offered by Dyce and David Scott (elder brother of William Bell), who both paid visits to Italy at about the same time as McInnes. It is even possible that his first visit coincided with theirs in 1832 (Dyce's third but the only one paid by the short-lived Scott). However, perhaps a better comparison is the love-affair that another Scot, John Phillip, was to conduct with Spain in the 1850s. Phillip was sixteen years younger than McInnes, and his style is freer and more naturalistic; but they responded with similar ardour to scenes of wild revelry and carnival excitement.
The present picture is a handsome example of McInnes's work in this mode. Painted in what Caw describes as his 'characteristically polished and neatly finished' style, it is dated 1853 and can almost certainly be identified with The Return from the Vineyard, a picture shown at the R.S.A. the following year. Its owner, who had presumably commissioned it or at least bought it direct from the artist, was Samuel Morton Peto (1809-1889), a partner in the construction company of Peto and Betts who was soon to be made a baronet for building the Crimean railway without profit to himself. An advanced liberal, favouring the extension of the franchise to the working classes and complete freedom of religious expression, Peto was a member of parliament for many years, sitting successively for Norwich, Finsbury and Bristol. Both Peto and Betts, who were related by marriage, were patrons of the arts. In 1844 Peto commissioned John Thomas (1813-1862), a sculptor and architectural draughtsman much employed by Prince Albert at Windsor, as well as by Sir Charles Barry on the new Palace of Westminster, to build him a neo-Jacobean mansion at Somerleyton in Suffolk. Betts formed an important collection of modern British pictures, including Landseer's enormous Scene in Braemar, sold by Christie's in London on 25 March 1994 (lot 85).