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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Colin Campbell Cooper

Hudson River Waterfront, 1913, Colin Campbell Cooper. What Americans were
painting when Cubism came calliing at the 1913 Armory show.
Window on the City No. 4, 2011-12, the
urban landscape as seen by European
artist, Robert Delaunay, in the 1913
New York Armory Show.
When one mentions American Impressionists, people's eyes tend to glaze over, even those of Americans, even those of those who love Impressionism. Unlike French Impressionists, who, initially at least, were relatively limited in number, by the time the style flowed, fled, or flooded to this side of the Atlantic after the turn of the century, the number of Americans embracing the style and its color theories were quite numerous. Moreover, the American Impressionists all tended to paint the same "Frenchy" subjects which were quite pretty, but also pretty boring, as compared to what was happening in Europe. The American public came face to face with such art for the first time in the 1913 Armory Show in New York. Impressionism in France by 1913 was so passe the only imported impressionist paintings in the entire show were by Monet and Renoir (as might be expected). There were barely a handful of American Impressionists works exhibited.

Concarmeau, (the south of France), 1890, Colin Campbell Cooper,
one of his few surviving works from the late 1800s.
Colin Campbell Cooper Self-portrait, 1922
Colin Campbell Cooper was one of those American Impressions whose work was not seen in the Armory Show. That was just as well, he would have felt quite out of place among the world's art avant-garde. Born in 1856, the middle child among eight siblings, he grew up in Philadelphia. His mother was an avid watercolorist, though young Colin seems to have been bitten by the "art bug" mostly as a result of visiting the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition. He was fortunate that both his parents supported his ambition to become an artist, and who better to study under at the time than Philadelphia's own Thomas Eakins (for three years). Then came the fashionable "Grand Tour" of Europe and his eventual settling in at Paris' Academie Julian for four more years. There he was exposed to the Barbizon school, plein air painting, and hence, Impressionism. Thus, when Cooper returned home to Philadelphia in the early 1890s, he knew art, knew painting (especially watercolor), and he knew Impressionism from the ground up. Moreover he taught what he knew at the Drexel Institue of Art (now Drexel University). Unfortunately, much of his painting from this period was destroyed by fire when the art gallery handling his work, burned to the ground in 1896. His Concarmeau (above) is an exception, painted in France before his return home.

Central Park in Winter, 1927, Colin Campbell Cooper. This must have been
something of a challenge for an "en plein air" painter.
Beauvais Cathendral, 1926,
Colin Campbell Cooper
The main thing that makes the work of Colin Campbell Cooper stand apart from the dozens upon dozens of equally able American Impressionists was the fact he was an inveterate traveler. Every summer this college painting professor traveled, usually back to Europe, then eventually all over the world. He may have been an American but most of his scenes were not. Certainly he was fond of New York (top and just above), painted Martha's Vineyard sometimes, and even the steps of the U.S. Capitol, but he also painted the Taj Mahal, he loved painting Gothic cathedrals (left), oriental ladies and their environment, even the SS Carpathia (below) as it rescued survivors from the Titanic in 1912 (his wife was a psssenger on the Carpathia at the time).

Rescue of the Survivors of the Titanic by the Carpathia,
1912, Colin Campbell Cooper
Temple in Bangkok, 1912,
Colin Campbell Cooper
After his wife's death in 1921, Cooper moved to California, settling in the coastal community of Santa Barbara just north of Los Angeles. No more setting up his easel in a frigid Central Park, Cooper loved the climate, the remnants of the Spanish ambience, and the growing colony of artists who shared his love for painting out-of-doors. His painting, Courtyard in Santa Barbara (bottom), from 1925, reflects this sunny affection. However, even though he loved California, Cooper continued to travel broadly all over the world. He married again in 1927 (everyone needs a traveling companion). He continued his international painting expeditions along with closer jaunts around California as well as Arizona and New Mexico until failing eyesight forced his retirement from painting in the early 1930s. He died in Santa Barbara in 1937 at the age of 81.

Courtyard in Santa Barbara, 1925, Colin Campbell Cooper
--why American Impressionists move to California.


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