George Barret, who was born in Dublin, but later moved to London, in circa 1763, in order to take advantage of the greater potential for patronage available in the metropolis, was one of the most outstanding landscape painters of his generation. In London he first came to public attention when he exhibited his View of the Waterfall at Powerscourt and View in the Dargle at the Society of Artists in 1764 and he soon established a considerable reputation for himself, with a correspondingly impressive clientele drawn from the upper echelons of British society. Barret's ability and status was recognised when he was appointed one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768 and his work was compared favourably to that of his contemporary Richard Wilson who was considered the preeminent British landscape painter.
On stylistic grounds this landscape is likely to date from the early part of Barret's career when he was working in Ireland. It appears to be a transitional work between the Zuccarelli inspired rococco Italianate landscape of 1755 (National Gallery of Ireland, on loan to Farmleigh) and works from the 1760s such as his views of Powerscourt demesne. Dense woods dominate the right hand side of the composition; from these a couple stroll towards the viewer while in front of them a horseman with his dog enter a stream. Further into the stream is the unusual motif of a washerwomen, surprisingly elegant and refined as she goes about her work. Barret's early precocity is evident in both the handling of the paint and his successful marshalling of the composition on such a large scale. The aerial perspective of the middle distance in particular is subtle and effective. The pose and palette of the washerwoman again recalls the Farmleigh picture but also some of Barret's capriccio landscapes - including those after Busiri - that as a young man he had painted for the Leeson family of Russborough, Co. Wicklow.
We are grateful to William Laffan for his assistance with this catalogue entry.