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Monday, October 30, 2017

David Cox

The Haymakers, David Cox. Note the height of that haystack. They must have killed a few haymakers piling it that high, which begs the question as to why they stacked that high.
It doesn't happen very often, but there have been times in the past when I've encountered a major artist, hailed as among the most important of his time and place, but whom I find little to praise. The English landscape painter, David Cox was one such artist. His biographers and art historians laud him as " of the most important members of the Birmingham School of landscape artists and an early precursor of impressionism." From what I've seen of the Birmingham School, that's rather weak praise coupled with such faintly recalled artists as William James Müller, to whom he had been introduced by mutual friend George Arthur Fripp. As for being a precursor of impressionism, that I can see, but the connection is weak, at best, and one more of style than color.
A Figure with a Dog Beside a Ruined Abbey, David Cox
That's not to say I dislike all of Cox's work. Although he was primarily known and praised for his watercolors, which made up the majority of his paintings, over 300 works in oils, rendered towards the end of his career (top), are now considered one of the greatest, but least recognized, achievements of any British painter. However, I must say, I had to search long and hard to find either oils or watercolors by Cox that I found outstanding. His a Figure with a Dog Beside a Ruined Abbey is one of this more interesting works on paper. Yet, even at that, the title is as boring as most of Cox's watercolors. Although he, like the Impressionists who followed him a generation later, painted outdoors, I get the impression he went about looking for the easiest subject he could find to paint.
David Cox, 1830, William Radclyffe. The photo dates from around 1855. 
David Cox was born in 1783 on Heath Mill Lane in Deritend, which, at the time, was an industrial suburb of Birmingham. His father was a blacksmith, also a whitesmith (a dealer and tinker in tin). Young David was expected to follow his father into the metal trade but was found to be too weak for such a profession. Thus it was his mother, whom biographers record was a woman of superior intelligence and had a better education than his father, who encouraged her son to become a painter.
Peter Boat Near Half Way House At Gravesend, David Cox
During the latter part of the 18th-century, Birmingham had developed a network of private academies teaching drawing and painting. The were established to support the needs of the town's manufacturers of luxury metal goods, but also to encourage education in the fine arts. Along with that came the nurturing of the distinctive tradition of landscape art of the Birmingham School. Cox initially enrolled in the academy of Joseph Barber where his fellow students included the artist Charles Barber and the engraver William Radclyffe, both of whom became his lifelong friends.
A Figure on a Lane, David Cox (in case you couldn't tell).
At the age of about fifteen, Cox was apprenticed to the Birmingham painter Albert Fielder, whose workshop produced portrait miniatures and paintings for the tops of snuffboxes. Cox apparently left his apprenticeship after Feidler's suicide (a pretty safe assumption). In 1804 Cox decided to try establishing himself as a professional artist, and apart from a few private commissions for painting scenery his focus over the next few years was to be on painting and exhibiting watercolors. In 1805 he made his first of many trips to Wales, with Charles Barber, his earliest dated watercolors are from this year. Throughout his lifetime he made numerous sketching tours to the Home Counties, North Wales, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Devon. While living in London, Cox married his landlord's daughter. They moved to Dulwich in 1808.

Welsh Funeral, David Cox. What's with all the coffins littering the foreground? A shortage of gravediggers?
Although Cox exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1805. His paintings never reached high prices, so he earned his living mainly as a drawing instructor. Cox eventually acquired several aristocratic and titled pupils. He also went on to write several books, including: Ackermanns' New Drawing Book, published in 1809; A Series Of Progressive Lessons dating from 1811; Treatise on Landscape Painting in 1813; and Progressive Lessons on Landscape in 1816. The ninth and final edition of his series Progressive Lessons, was published in 1845.

Study of a Small Girl in a
Pinafore, late 1840s, David Cox
Late in life, Cox traveled all about England and Wales with side trips to France where he painted the quaint villages dotting the Normandy coast. These are my favorites.
After a brief stint as drawing instructor at the Royal Military College in Farnham, Surrey, Cox acquired a position as drawing master for Miss Crouchers' School for Young Ladies in Hereford. In Autumn 1814 moved to the town with his family. Cox taught at the school until 1819, his substantial salary of £100 per year requiring only two day's work per week, allowing time for painting and private pupils. Sometime around 1840, Cox made the decision to switch from watercolors to oils. Hostility between the Society of Painters in Watercolors and the Royal Academy made it difficult for an artist to be recognized for work in both watercolor and oil in London. So, Cox moved back to Birmingham where he lived and painted from 1841 until his death in 1859.

Thank you. I've seen enough.
Welsh Woman, David Cox.


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