The present set of four drawings relates to Gilpin's tour of the Wye Valley in 1770. They are explorations of the picturesque possibilities of landscape, inspired by the scenery Gilpin saw around him, but re-imagined and re-composed into new formulations of an ideal. It was on his Wye trip that Gilpin wrote that Nature is 'seldom so correct in composition as to produce an harmonious whole' (W. Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye, 1782, p. 18). He optimistically endowed the artist with the power to rectify the problem, and produced treatises on picturesque composition. These, and the eight illustrated volumes which charted his various tours, influenced a generation of artists and tourists.
Gilpin was educated at Queen's College, Oxford before being ordained in 1746. He taught at Cheam in Surrey for many years before becoming Vicar of Boldre in the New Forest, where he remained until his death. He was relentless in his pursuit of the 'picturesque' and the inspiration for Rowlandson's character Dr Syntax.