John Sell Cotman
Portrait by Alfred Clint (undated), Norfolk Museums Collections
|Died||24 May 1842 (aged 60)|
|Known for||Landscape painting|
|Movement||Norwich School of painters|
Early life and work
His father was a prosperous silk merchant and lace dealer. He was educated at the Norwich School. He showed a talent for art from an early age and would often go out on frequent drawing trips into the countryside around Norwich.
His father intended him to go into the family business but instead, intent on a career in art, he moved to London in 1798, initially making a living through commissions from print-sellers. He came under the patronage of Dr. Thomas Monro, physician to Bridewell and the Bethlehem Hospital, whose house in Adelphi Terrace was a studio and a meeting place for artists. There Cotman made the acquaintance of J. M. W. Turner, Peter de Wint and Thomas Girtin, who became an influential figure in his artistic development. He joined a sketching club started by Girtin, and went on drawing expeditions to Wales and Surrey.
In 1800 Cotman exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time, showing five scenes of Surrey and one of Harlech Castle. He is thought to have spent the summers of 1800 and 1801 touring Wales, as he showed Welsh scenes at the Royal Academy in 1801 and 1802. In 1800 he was awarded an honorary palette by the Society of Arts. He continued to exhibit at the Academy until 1806, and went on several extended drawing trips through England and Wales. In the three summers of 1803–5 he stayed with the Cholmeley family at Brandsby Hall in Yorkshire. On the last of these three visits, he made a series of watercolours of the River Greta.
Return to Norwich
While based in London, Cotman had spent some time in Norwich, and in September 1802 he advertised his services as teacher of drawing in the Norwich Mercury. In 1806 he returned to live in Norwich and joined the Norwich Society of Artists, exhibiting 20 works, including six portraits, at the society's exhibition in 1807, and 67 works, including some oils, in 1808. In 1811 he became President of the Society.
6th Jan 1809, Cotman married Ann Miles, a farmer's daughter from Felbrigg, their first son Miles Edmund takes on her name. They had a total of five sons and two daughters. His main living came from teaching art and one of his students, the local antiquary Dawson Turner, became a good friend, introducing him to many pupils and collaborating on one of his books. As part of his teaching Cotman operated a kind of subscription library of watercolours, which his pupils took home to copy. Many of his works bear numbers related to this scheme.
In 1811, his first set of etchings was published; all but one of the subjects were architectural, mostly buildings in Yorkshire. He followed this with a set of 60 etchings of the ancient buildings of Norfolk, published in ten parts between 1812 and 1818. In 1817 he visited Normandy with Dawson Turner, making drawings of buildings, and he went there again in 1818 and 1820. Two years later he published a set of 100 etchings based on sketches made during his Normandy tour. After these visits the character of his paintings changed, the later ones being brighter in colour.
From 1812 to 1823, Cotman lived on the coast at Great Yarmouth where he studied shipping and mastered the form of waves. Some of his finest marine pieces date from this time. He returned to Norwich in 1824, hoping to improve his financial position, and moved into a large house in St Martin's Plain, opposite the Bishop's Palace, where he built up a collection of prints, books, armour and many models of ships to aid his compositions. He showed work from 1823 to 1825 at the Norwich Society of Artists' annual exhibitions.
In 1825, Cotman became an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours and was a frequent exhibitor there until 1839. However he was driven to despair by his constant financial struggles.
King's College, London
In January 1834, Cotman was appointed Master of Landscape Drawing at King's College School in London, partly on the recommendation of J. M. W. Turner. In 1836, his son Miles Edmund was appointed to assist him. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of his pupils. In London, Cotman was friends with a number of artists including James Stark, George Cattermole, Samuel Prout and Cornelius Varley. In 1836, he became an honorary member of the Institute of British Architects. In 1838, all of his etchings were published by Henry George Bohn including "Liber Studiorum".
Cotman died in July 1842, and was buried in the cemetery at St. John's Wood Chapel. All his works and collection of prints and books were sold by auction at Christie's, realising just over £525 – a relatively paltry sum.
Cotman's name is used as a trademark by Winsor & Newton for a range of artist's watercolour materials.
Cotman worked in oils, watercolour, pencil and chalk, and produced many hundreds of etchings. His work can be found in the Castle Museum and Art Gallery in Norwich, where well over 2,000 works are held, Leeds Art Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and other regional centres. In the United States, Cotman's work is held by the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and in other galleries around the country.
- Etchings of Ancient Buildings in England (1811)
- Specimens of Norman and Gothic Architecture in the County of Norfolk (1817)
- Cotman, John Sell; Cromwell, Thomas (1818). Excursions in the County of Norfolk (volume 1). London.
- Sepulchral brasses in Norfolk (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1819).
- Cotman, John Sell; Turner, Dawson (1822). Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, by John Sell Cotman; accompanied by historical and descriptive notices by Dawson Turner, Esq. F.R. and A.S. London.
Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire (1803)
Greta Bridge (1805)
Drainage Mills in the Fens, Croyland, Lincolnshire
The Mouth of the Yare
- The family name is given as Cottman in the parish record for John Sell Cotman's baptism.
- John Sell Cotman in "Archdeacons transcripts for Norwich parishes, 1600-1812", FamilySearch (John Sell Cotman)
- Cundall 1920, pp. 1, 17.
- Binyon 1897, p. 49.
- Binyon 1897, p. 50.
- Lyles & Hamlyn 1997, p. 206.
- Binyon 1897, pp. 52-52.
- Binyon 1897, p. 56.
- Ancestry.co.uk Cotman Family Tree accessed 5 Aug 2019
- Binyon 1897, p. 60.
- Binyon 1897, p. 64.
- Binyon 1897, p. 67.
- Binyon 1897, p. 71.
- Binyon 1897, p. 72.
- Binyon 1897, p. 75.
- Binyon 1897, p. 76.
- Dictionary of National Biography vol4 p.1213 accessed 5 Aug 2019
- Binyon, Laurence (1897). John Crome and John Sell Cotman. London: Seeley & Co. LCCN 10012634.
- Cundall, Herbert Minton (1920). The Norwich School. London: The Studio Ltd. OCLC 472125860.
- Lyles, Anne; Hamlyn, Robin (1997). English Watercolours from the Oppé Collection. London: Tate Gallery. OCLC 39887257.
- Dickes, William Frederick (1905). The Norwich school of painting: being a full account of the Norwich exhibitions, the lives of the painters, the lists of their respecitve exhibits and descriptions of the pictures. Norwich: Jarrold & Sons Ltd.
- Green, Andrew (2019). "John Sell Cotman in Wales". gwallter. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
- Holcomb, Adele M. (1978). John Sell Cotman. London: British Museum Publications.
- Kitson, Sydney D. (1937). The life of John Sell Cotman. London: Faber & Faber.
- Rajnai, M.; Allthorpe-Guyton, Marjorie (1979). John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842: early drawings (1798-1812). Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service.
- Turner, Dawson (1822). Architectural antiquities of Normandy, by John Sell Cotman; accompanied by historical and descriptive notices by Dawson Turner. London: Arel.
- Dictionary of National Biography London, England: Oxford University Press; Volume: Vol 04; Page: 1211
- Hill, David (2005)"Cotman In The North" Yale University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Sell Cotman.|
- 62 paintings by or after John Sell Cotman at the Art UK site
- Works by John Sell Cotman in the Norfolk Museums Collections
- J S Cotman online (ArtCyclopedia)
- The Cotman Collection, Leeds Art Gallery
- "Greta Bridge" and "The Drop Gate, Duncombe Park" (Watercolours – British Museum)
- John Sell Cotman at Find a Grave
- Works by John Sell Cotman at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about John Sell Cotman at Internet Archive
- 129 works by (or associated with) John Sell Cotman held by the National Trust
- 67 works by John Sell Cotman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York