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Edward Willam Cooke RA, FRS 1811-1880
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Edward Willam Cooke RA, FRS 1811-1880

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A Schevening Pinck preparing for Sea


Oil painting on canvas 36 x 54 inches, and contained within a giltwood frame


Signed and dated 1877


Exhibited: Royal Academy 1877 number 288


Literature: H. Blackburn, Academy Notes 1877 (illus); John Munday E.W. Cooke, A Man of his Time (Woodbridge, ACC, 1996) page 338 number 76/9


Provenance: …...with the dealer Broadhead in Leeds, from whom purchased c.1960 by Mr and Mrs Mark Oddey of Sydney Australia and by descent until the present


Edward William Cooke was born on 27 March 1811 in Chapel Street, Pentonville, London, the second of the eleven children of George Cooke (1781–1834), engraver and print publisher, and his wife, Elizabeth Harriet Eglinton (1785–1882). He was educated at Grove House School, Woodford, Essex, before receiving artistic training in the studios of his father, uncle, and family friends, during which he became deeply versed in works of the early nineteenth-century landscapists.

Cooke was almost obsessively interested in recording his natural and man-made environment. He early became a proficient botanical illustrator, drawing from nature from the age of nine in the celebrated Hackney nurseries of Conrad Loddiges & Sons and later assisting his father with aquatints for the Loddiges's Botanical Cabinet (1817–33). The marine artist Clarkson Stanfield employed him to make drawings of nautical details, while a friendship with the captain of the West Indiaman Thetis gave Cooke opportunities for study on board. As an etcher of marine subjects he developed an almost archaeological approach, recording as if aware that change was afoot. He published Fifty Plates of Shipping and Craft (1829), Twelve Plates of Coast Sketches: Brighton (1830), and The British Coast (1831), all of which were republished together in 1831 as Sixty-Five Plates of Shipping and Craft but bearing the date of 1829. In 1833 he and his father produced Views of the Old and the New London Bridges, twelve plates from his drawings of the subjects. His father's London and its Vicinity (1826–34) was engraved from watercolours by Augustus Callcott, J. S. Cotman, Stanfield, and Samuel Prout, all based on outline drawings made by the younger Cooke to relieve them of the preliminary labour.

Cooke and several of his father's other pupils moved in the circle of Richard Parkes Bonington, whose watercolour style Cooke emulated. He showed a single-minded devotion to minutely observed portraits of smaller working craft, recording their appearance in every country he visited; his travels abroad included tours of France from 1833, the Netherlands from 1837, western Italy from 1845–6, Venice from 1850, Sweden and Denmark in 1853, Spain in 1861, and Egypt in 1874. His scenes of Netherlandish coasts and waterways earned him the nickname Dutch Cooke among picture dealers (he often inscribed Van Kook on his boats); he was also dubbed Venetian Cooke for his portrayals of the craft of the Adriatic Sea and the lagoons, which he sometimes inscribed II Lagunetto.

Cooke first exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution from 1835; he was elected ARA in 1851 and RA in 1863. Critics in general reviewed his work favourably and, early on in his artistic career, he attracted the patronage of John Sheepshanks, Robert Vernon, and William Wells, all wealthy collectors of modern art. Many major British galleries and museums own works by him, but his important Morning after a Heavy Gale (exh. RA, 1857), which was well reviewed by Ruskin, is in a private collection in the USA. On 13 June 1840 he married Jane Loddiges (1812–1843), the younger daughter of George Loddiges; they had a daughter who died in infancy and two sons.

Cooke combined his artistic interests with scientific ones, displaying an early enthusiasm for geology. He was introduced to the use of the microscope by George Loddiges and attended the inaugural meeting of the Microscopical Society. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society from 1857 and of the Royal Society from 1863. He was very interested in photography and was an early collector of calotypes. A member of the Athenaeum, he also belonged to the Alpine Club and the dining clubs of several scientific as well as artistic societies, including the Palaeontological Society. Among his publications is the eccentric Entwicklungsgeschichte—grotesque animals (1872), illustrated with ingenious drawings mixing fur, feather, bone, shells, and other fragments to demonstrate, with humorous descriptions, his familiarity with natural history. Ruskin—a fellow enthusiast for the natural sciences—described him a little cruelly as ‘the smallest clever man I ever knew … full of accurate and valuable knowledge in natural history with which he is always overflowing at the wrong times’ (J. Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, 1903–12, 14.69).

As a gardener Cooke displayed a talent for artistic grouping combined with great knowledge and love of plants. A determined collector of ferns, he named both his two Kensington houses The Ferns. For his friend James Bateman he designed many features of the remarkable gardens of Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire, which still exist. His own gardens at Glen Andred, Groombridge, Sussex, spreading round a house built for him by Norman Shaw in 1868, were renowned for the rocks which he revealed by removing the topsoil.

Cooke found inactivity unbearable, according to his letters; Richard Redgrave described him as ‘of a lively and genial disposition, restlessly active, a greater talker, and full of anecdote’ (R. Redgrave and S. Redgrave, A Century of Painters 1890, new edn, 1947, 424). W. E. Oswell recalled him at work, writing of ‘the alert restless figure, the clear wide-set blue eyes … the marvellously sure hand darting from palette to canvas’ (W. E. Oswell, ed., William Cotton Oswell, Hunter and Explorer: the Story of his Life, 1900, 2.96). Cooke died from cancer of the liver and lung on 4 January 1880 at Glen Andred and was buried at the church in Groombridge on 10 January. Sales of his remaining works took place at Christies, London, on 22 May 1880 and 11 March 1882.

© John Munday (ODNB)




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