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E. W Cooke

1811 - 1880

E. W. Cooke's family was centred on the world of engraving and etching on copper, as both his father, George, and his uncle were specialists in this field, engraving the work of many leading artists of the day such as John Sell Cotman, James Stark, Clarkson Stanfield and J. M. W. Turner.

Cooke also trained as an engraver, demonstrating his precocious talent with the publication in 1828-29 of Fifty Plates of Shipping and Craft. His remarkable attention to detail and draughtsmanship was also evident from his earliest drawings and paintings, but Cooke's supreme skill was to combine meticulous accuracy with the ability to imbue his pictures with atmosphere.

Whilst Cooke's passion for the sea and sailing vessels of all sizes and descriptions became the subject matter for which he is best remembered, his knowledge of geology and botany was also extensive, and he participated in the engraving of the periodical The Botanical Cabinet, along with his father and George Loddiges, of the nurserymen Conrad Loddiges & Sons. Cooke executed around 400 of the 2,000 plates. In 1840 he married George Loddiges' daughter, Jane. His election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1863 came just before his membership of the Royal Academy in 1864.

Throughout his career as a painter, Edward Cooke travelled extensively in Europe visiting Holland, Italy, Spain, North Africa and Scandinavia. Paintings and drawings resulted from all his travels, but it is evident that the places which provided the strongest fascination for him alongside the southern coastline of England were the beaches and estuaries of Holland and the topography of Venice.

Amongst Cooke's favourite Dutch subjects were the sands at Scheveningen, Scheveling and the beach at Katwijk, which nestles in the dunes near Leiden. Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem the younger, had both painted these shores and after they had emigrated to England in 1672 to work for the King at Greenwich, the English school of marine painters was established. Their influence on Cooke was profound and some of his finest, most atmospheric paintings depicted the flat-bottomed fishing craft, known as 'pincks', drawn up on the sand with the wind whipping through their sails. Around the boats, fishermen wade through the glassy shallows, securing anchors and unloading their catch.

The device of an artist 'concealing' his name within a painting, in addition to his signature, was common enough amongst artists and Cooke was no exception. In this painting the most prominent vessel is named 'Van Kook' on its stern, demonstrating Cooke's desire to be counted as a Dutchman.

Cooke's first visit to Venice was in 1850 and he returned there a further nine times before his last visit in 1877. Inspired by the works of Canaletto, Bellotto and Guardi which he had seen in English collections and moved by Turner's Venetian paintings, it was natural that Cooke should wish to witness for himself the magic of this great city. It was in Venice that Cooke met the critic John Ruskin and they became friends. Cooke's paintings reflected his love of architecture but he was equally captivated by the colourful craft of the lagoon, which he often painted set against spectacular sunsets.

Edward William Cooke is recognised today as one of the great marine artists of the 19th century. John Munday's superb book, published in 1996, draws on Cooke's diaries and other documents in the possession of the artist's family and is a fascinating account of this remarkable man.

Exhibited : Royal Academy, London, 1835-1879 (129 works)British Institution, London, 1835-1867 (115 works)Suffolk Street Museums : National Maritime Museum; Greenwich Tate Gallery; London Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead; Auckland City Art Gallery; National Gallery of New South WalesLiterature : John Munday, 'E. W. Cooke - A Man of His Time', 1996, Antique Collectors' Club Back to list