Vegetation spills from the ruined walls of Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. In front of the castle a fence, enclosing cattle in a field, follows a gentle sweeping curve, which is echoed by the gnarled tree to the right of the composition and the clouds above. The path around the fence is populated by tourists visiting the ruin.
Kenilworth Castle was founded in 1122 by Geoffrey de Clinton, treasurer to Henry I. It was extended and strengthened as a fortress by King John. Henry V later added a grand banqueting house and Henry VIII enlarged the Castle’s lodgings. This impressive complex of buildings was damaged, but not entirely demolished, when it fell into Parliamentary hands during the Civil War. The castle remained unoccupied and neglected following the Restoration, causing it to fall into ruin.
Throughout the 19th century, Kenilworth Castle was one of the most popular ruins in England, visited by a continuous stream of tourists and painters. It was painted by J. M. W. Turner (1830, Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco), James Ward (1840, Yale Center for British Art) and Thomas Cole (1841, Juniata College Museum of Art, Huntingdon), amongst others. When the writer Henry James visited in 1877, he described the scene outside the Castle, where ‘a row of ancient peddlers …[were] hawking twopenny pamphlets and photographs’ to the many visitors.
Thomas Smith of Derby was a topographical and picturesque landscape painter who lived in Bridgegate, Derby. He exhibited at the Society of Artists and the Free Society of Artists from 1760 to 1767. Several examples of his work include groups of elegant tourists admiring views of country estates. He took his art sufficiently seriously to name both his sons after great painters, calling them Thomas Correggio Smith and John Raphael Smith (who continued the tradition by naming his son John Rubens Smith). Both of his sons naturally became artists, as did his daughter, Emma. Smith died on 5 September 1767 in Hotwells, a district of Bristol.
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