From the late 1870s, when Thorne Waite became an increasingly active participant at the annual exhibitions of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, his landscapes appeared to many commentators to be part of a revival of the broad, sketchy style of David Cox and Peter DeWint, both of whom had been prominent and longstanding members of the Society in the first half of the century.
Thorne Waite’s work was assessed in relation to its sources in The Spectator on 7 June 1879: ‘Of all our young painters, Mr Thorne Waite alone combines the effect of the old and the new schools of water-colour. His earlier works were little else than imitations of Cox, then DeWint obtained a great influence over his mind, and now he is like Cox in his skies and DeWint in his hills, though very much brighter and less heavy in his colouring than the latter. He is essentially a “sketcher”, and his finished pictures are very seldom more than sketches, elaborated in workmanship, but not added to in detail. All that you get in his finished work you get in his sketches, and get it fresher and more vividly.’
Yet at the time of his admission in 1876 to associate membership of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (he became a full member in 1884), Thorne Waite’s productions displayed a stronger affinity with the escapist idylls of Myles Birket Foster – the older artist even complaining in the press that Thorne Waite was copying him.
Despite the subsequent development of Thorne Waite’s technique towards a more direct and broader handling that aimed to preserve the transparency of the medium, and which avoided the faintest touch of bodycolour, his vision of the countryside and rural life nevertheless remained essentially rosy. His halcyon imagery was remarked upon by critics repeatedly, as in 1887 when he submitted to the Society of Painters in Water Colours a large-scale exhibition piece illustrating the old custom of cheese rolling, with a group of children about to run down the hill to catch the cheese.
According to The Spectator: ‘Mr Thorne Waite sends a large number of contributions, of which his Trundling the cheese – a landscape on the Sussex Downs, with small, very prettily put in rustic figures – is the most important. The work is extremely skilful and pleasant, and there is a soft brightness which overspreads the whole composition – a sense of warmth and sun and summer days… one feels inclined to say… “Well, if England is not like this – why, it ought to be”.’
Victorian watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 2017