Cope, Charles West (DNB01)
|←Cooper, Thomas (1805-1892)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement
Cope, Charles West
COPE, CHARLES WEST (1811-1890), historical painter, the son of Charles Cope, a water-colour landscape painter, was born at Park Square, Leeds, on 28 July 1811. He was called West, and his only sister Ellen Turner, was called Turner, after the celebrated painters, both of whom were friends of his father. His mother was 'a gifted amateur' in water-colours, and painted rustic figures. He was sent as a child to a school at Camberwell, and afterwards to Terry's school at Great Marlow, where he was bullied and his elbow was broken, which left him with a crooked arm for life. He was then sent to the grammar school at Leeds, where he suffered from the cruelty of a master. His mother died shortly after his birth, and his father from a coach accident in 1827. He entered Sass's well-known academy in the same year, and in 1828 became a student of the Roval Academy. He obtained a silver medal from the Society of Arts in 1829, and a second medal in the Royal Academy Life School, and a life studentship. About 1830 he had lodgings in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.
In 1832 he went to Paris with his friend Cornelius Harrison, and copied Titian, Rembrandt, and other 'old masters' in the Louvre. In 1833 he exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time, the title of the picture being 'The Golden Age'. In September of the same year he started for Italy, and was absent nearly two years, visiting Florence, Rome (where he met Gibson, Severn, H. Atkinson, the architect Arthur Glennie, and other artists), Orvieto, Assisi, Perugia, and other places in Umbria, Naples and its neighbourhood, where he saw Vesuvius in eruption. he went back to Florence where he spent the winter of 1834 and the spring of 1835. here he painted pictures on commission, including the first version of 'The Firstborn' which was exhibited at the British Institution, bought by William Beckford of Fonthill, and repeated for Lord Lansdowne. After visiting Siena, Verona, Parma, and Venice, Cope returned to England and took lodgings in Newman Street, London. He shortly afterwards removed to 1 Russell Place, where his landlord, a musical man, and his family, whose name was Kiallmark, sat for his models. Here he painted ‘Paolo and Francesca’ and ‘Osteria di Campagna,’ which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 and 1838 respectively. Miss Kiallmark sat for the principal figure in the latter. They attracted notice, and ‘Paolo and Francesca’ was bought by the Art Union of London, and the other by Mr. Villebois of Benham, who gave him for it 150l., a large sum to the artist at that time.
In 1839-40 he painted a large altar-piece (16 feet by 10) for St. George's church, Leeds, in a large room in Lisson Grove, formerly occupied by Haydon. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840, received a premium of 50l. at Liverpool, and was presented to the church by the artist.
John Sheepshanks [q. v.] had been Cope's friend from boyhood, and it was at his house that he made friends with George Richmond [q. v.] and Richard Redgrave[q. v.] It was during his residence in Russell Place that the Etching Club was founded, of which Cope was one of the original members. While on a sketching and fishing excursion with Richard Redgrave in the valley of the Greta and the Tees, and living at Mortham Tower, he met the father of his friend Harrison (who had died), and it was at his house (Stubb House) that Cope met his future wife, Miss Charlotte Benning, the daughter of a surgeon with a large country practice. Despite much opposition from her mother, the marriage took place on 1 Sept. 1840, and the couple, after a brief occupation of furnished lodgings in Lisson Grove, moved to Hyde Park Gate, Kensington Gore, in 1841. While staying with his friends the Sulivans at Ashford (Middlesex), Cope had been much struck with a scene at a meeting of a board of guardians at Staines, and he made it the subject of a picture which was exhibited at the Academy in 1841. It was called ‘Poor Law Guardians: Board-day application for bread.’ It attracted a great deal of attention, but, to his surprise and discouragement, it was returned unsold at the close of the exhibition. It was sold two years afterwards for 105l. to the winner of one of the prizes of the Art Union of London.
Cope now directed his energies to the competitions for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament, and obtained in 1843 a prize of 300l. for his cartoon of ‘The First Trial by Jury.’ This success induced him to learn fresco painting. To the competition of 1844 he sent a simple and beautiful design of the ‘Meeting of Jacob and Rachel,’ and was one of the six painters commissioned in July of that year to prepare cartoons, coloured sketches, and specimens of fresco painting for the decoration of the House of Lords, and he received 400l. for his design of ‘Prince Henry, afterwards Henry V, acknowledging the authority of Chief-justice Gascoigne’ (see Return to H. of C. 23 of 1854). Cope received a commission to execute this design in fresco, and also another of ‘Edward the Black Prince receiving the Order of the Garter.’ Both frescoes were duly executed, but are now in ruins. These commissions were followed by others, and Cope was for many years so much engaged on his frescoes in the House of Lords that his only oil pictures were small and of a domestic character. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1843.
In 1845 Cope went with Mr. Horsley to Italy to examine the technical methods of fresco painting; he also went to Munich and consulted Professor Hess. In 1846 he visited Switzerland, and in 1848 he exhibited a large picture of ‘Cardinal Wolsey's Reception at Leicester Abbey’ (painted for Prince Albert), and was raised to the full honours of the Royal Academy. In this year he was engaged on the fresco of ‘Griselda’ on the wall of the upper waiting hall of the House of Lords. It is now in ruins as well as another from ‘Lara,’ afterwards painted by Cope in the same hall. A small sketch of the ‘Griselda’ was sold to Munro of Novar. In 1849 he exhibited ‘The First-born’ (life-size), which was painted for Mr. Dewhurst of Manchester. This is perhaps the best known of his easel pictures, as it was engraved by Vernon for the Art Union. Next year he sent to the Royal Academy ‘King Lear and Cordelia’ (painted for the ‘Shakespeare room’ of Isambard K. Brunel, the celebrated engineer), and in 1851 ‘The Sisters,’ sold to Mr. Watt, and ‘Laurence Saunders's Martyrdom’ in three compartments. Another ‘Marriage of Griselda’ was painted for Mr. Betts of Preston Hall, Kent, in 1852, and in 1853 ‘Othello relating his Adventures to Dessdemona,’ for Mr. Barlow of Upton Hall, Ardwick, near Manchester (afterwards repeated for the Duchess of Sutherland but sold to Mr. Leather of Leeds). In this year Cope was seriously ill from an internal tumour. In 1854 he exhibited ‘The Friends’ (two of his own children, (Charles and Charlotte), and in 1855 ‘Royal Prisoners’ (Princess Elizabeth lying dead in Carisbrooke Castle and her young brother). In 1856 he exhibited nothing, but he painted in oil ‘The Embarkation of a Puritan Family for New England’ (the pilgrim fathers) for the peers' corridor in the House of Lords, for which a fresco was afterwards substituted. A small replica in oils was also made. The big picture was sent to America, and Cope was made an honorary member of the Philadelphian Society of Arts. It is now in the National Gallery at Melbourne, Australia, having been purchased by the government of Victoria in 1864.
In 1857 Cope exhibited 'Affronted' (a portrait of his daughter Charlotte, which was engraved), and executed a fresco of 'The Burial of Charles I' in the peers' corridor. To this year also belong two designs from Longman's 'Selections from Moore,' and four for Burns's ‘Cotter's Saturday Night.’ In 1858 came ‘The Stepping Stones,’ and in 1859 a picture of ‘Cordelia receiving the News of her father's Ill-treatment,’ and the fresco of ‘The Parting of Lord and Lady William Russell’ in the peers' corridor. In 1861 the fresco of ‘Raising the Standard’ was placed in the same corridor. In 1862 he executed by the water-glass method the fresco of ‘The Defence of Basing House,’ and in 1863-4 that of the ‘Expulsion of Fellows from Oxford for refusing to sign the Covenant.’ In 1863 Cope was examined before the Royal Academy commission, and in 1865 he exhibited a study of Fra Angelico in oil, afterwards executed in mosaic on a larger scale at the South Kensington Museum. This he presented to the Royal Academy with his diploma picture ‘Geneviève.’ In this year his large posthumous portrait of the prince consort was hung in the large room of the Society of Arts. For many years Cope had been associated with the prince in his schemes for the advancement of art, and the artist in his reminiscences bears witness to the prince's invariable kindness. In 1865 and 1866 Cope finished his bust frescoes in the House of Lords: ‘Meeting of Train Bands to relieve the Siege of Gloucester’ and ‘Speaker Lenthall asserting the Privileges of the Commons.’ In 1866 he became secretary of the building committee appointed to make arrangements for the removal of the Royal Academy from Trafalgar Souare. In 1867 he was appointed professor of painting to the Royal Academy, and he delivered six lectures a year till 1875. In 1867 also he painted a third scene (moonlight) from ‘Othello’ (exhihited 1868), and was one of the artists selected to report on the paintings in oil at the great exhibition in Paris
In 1868, Cope received a severe shock by the loss of his wife, but after a brief visit to the continent he recommenced work and sent three pictures to the Academy in 1869. In 1871 he exhibited 'Guy, the Bookseller, consulting Dr. Mead as to the Plans of Guy's Hospital,' which was presented to the hospital, and he was one of the committee of artists employed in the decoration of Westminster Palace who reported on fresco painting in this year (see Return to House of Commons, 19 of 1872). He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy till 1882, but perhaps the most important picture of this period was 'The Council of the Royal Academy-Selection of Pictures.' It was exhibited in 1876 and presented by the artist to the Royal Academy, to be placed in the council room, where it now hangs. It was in 1876 also that Cope was selected, with Mr. Peter Graham, to represent the Royal Academy at the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia. He took with him his son Arthur (now an associate of the Royal Academy), and on his return he delivered a lecture upon the proceedings of the 'judges', and also wrote an amusing account of his experiences in America, both of which are contained in his 'Reminiscences'.
In 1879 Cope left his house at Kensington and married his second wife, Miss Eleanor Smart. They settled at Maidenhead on the Thames in a house called Craufurd Rise. In 1883 he retired on to the list of honorary members of the Royal Academy, and ceased the active practice of his profession, though he still amused himself occasionally with painting, and as late as 1886 acted as examiner in painting for the South Kensington Schools of Art. He retained the vigour of his intellectual powers, his keenness of observation, and his humour till the end. It was during his last years that, at the request of his eldest son, the Rev. Charles Henry Cope, he wrote the 'Reminiscences' of his life which furnish most of the material of this article. The autobiography was completed in October 1889 and he died at Bournemouth on 21 Aug. 1890, after a brief illness.
Though not of the first rank, Cope was an artist of considerable accomplishment, versed in technical methods, a capable draughtsman and designer, and a good etcher. Engaged mainly on large historical compositions, and obtaining a ready sale for the smaller domestic pictures which occupied his lighter hours, he lived an industrious and honoured life. Unfortunately the work on which he bestowed his higher energies, the frescoes in the House of Lords, are for the most part in a deplorable condition. Of his smaller work good specimens are included in the Sheepshanks bequest at South Kensington.[Reminiscences of Charles West Cope, R.A. by his son Charles Henry Cope, M.A.; Men of the Time; Annual Register; Returns to House of Commons, 23 of 1854, 295 of 1861, and 19 of 1872; Art Journal, 1869; Athenæum 1890, ii. 328, and 1892 ii. 166; Hamerton's Etching and Etchers.]