Artist biography

English painter. The son of a gardener to the Gilpin family, he studied under the animal painter Sawrey Gilpin. During a trip to Derbyshire with Gilpin he met George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick, who gave him financial support to go to Italy between 1776 and 1781. Smith spent 1778–9 in Naples and was otherwise based in Rome. He contributed six views to Samuel Middiman's Select Views in Great Britain (1784–5) and between 1784 and 1806 toured Wales 13 times in search of Picturesque and Sublime scenery. He also visited the Lake District between 1789 and 1792, which resulted in the publication of Twenty Views of the Lake District (1791–5); he appears to have been in Devon and Worcestershire as well. Aquatints after Smith were used to illustrate William Sotheby's Tour through Parts of Wales (1794), and engravings after his own work were used for Smith's series of Select Views in Italy (1792–9). By 1797 Smith had settled in London.

In 1799 J. M. W. Turner criticised Smith's ‘mechanically systematic' watercolours, but Smith's use of strong local colours applied without grey underpainting and his abandonment of pen-and-ink outlines gives a forceful and painterly quality to his watercolours. His Welsh views often include figures involved in agricultural or commercial activities, and he very effectively brought out the potential drama to be found in landscapes of cliffs and waterfalls, using them to dwarf his figures in a manner that places him among the early Romantic watercolour artists.

B. S. Long: ‘John (Warwick) Smith', Walker's Q., xxiv (1927) [whole issue]
I. A. Williams: ‘John “Warwick” Smith, 1749–1831', Old Wtrcol. Soc. Club, xxiv (1946), pp. 8–19
M. Hardie: Water-Colour Painting in Britain, i (London, 1966), pp. 88, 113–17, 173
A. Wilton: British Watercolours, 1750 to 1850 (Oxford, 1977), pp. 28, 31, 188, 193, 197–8
Presences of Nature: British

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