Cozens, Alexander (DNB00)

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COZENS, ALEXANDER (d. 1786), landscape-painter in water-colours, was a natural son of Peter the Great and an Englishwoman from Deptford. The czar took her to Russia, where Cozens was born (date unknown), and had another son by her, who became a general in the Russian army. Cozens was sent by his father to study painting in Italy, whence he came to England in 1746. In 1760 we find his name among the contributors to the first public exhibition in London of works by living artists, which was held in the great room of the Society of Arts. This was got up by a body of artists who afterwards divided into the 'Free Society' and the 'Incorporated Society of Artists.' Cozens contributed to the exhibitions of both societies. In 1761 he obtained a prize from the Society of Arts at the exhibition in the Strand of the former, but he was one of the original members of the latter, incorporated in 1766. He also exhibited eight works at the Royal Academy between 1772 and 1781. He was mostly employed in teaching, was drawingmaster at Eton school from 1763 to 1768, and gave lessons to the Prince of Wales. He also practised at Bath. He married a sister of Robert Edge Pine [q. v.], by whom he left one son, John Robert Cozens [q. v.] He died in Duke Street, Piccadilly, 23 April 1786.

Of Cozens's art before he came to England there are fifty-four specimens in the British Museum. These drawings, mostly if not all Italian scenes, were lost by him in Germany on his way from Rome to England, and were recovered in Florence thirty years afterwards (1776) by his son. They show him as a highly skilled draughtsman in the style of the time, with much sense of scenic elegance in composition. Some are wholly in pen and ink in the manner of line engravings. Others show extensive landscapes elaborately drawn in pencil, and partly finished in ink. Others are washed in monochrome, and some in colour of a timid kind. One, a view of Porto Longano in the Isle of Elba, is very prettily tinted. In most there is no sky to speak of, but in one he has attempted a bold effect of sunlight streaming through cloud, and brightly illuminating several distinct spots in the landscape. Several broad pencil drawings on greenish paper heightened with white are very effective. Altogether these show that Cozens before his arrival in England was a well-trained artist who observed nature for himself, and was not without poetical feeling. After his arrival in England he appears, from some drawings in the South Kensington Museum, to have adopted a much broader style, aiming at an imposing distribution of masses and large effects of light and shade. Sir George Beaumont was his pupil at Eton, and so also was Henry Angelo, whose 'Reminiscences ' give a lively description of his peculiar method of teaching: 'Cozens dashed out upon several pieces of paper a series of accidental smudges and blots in black, brown, and grey, which being floated on, he impressed again upon other paper, and by the exercise of his fertile imagination, and a certain degree of ingenious coaxing, converted into romantic rocks, woods, towers, steeples, cottages, rivers, fields, and waterfalls. Blue and grey blots formed the mountains, clouds, and skies.' An improvement on this plan was to splash the bottoms of earthenware plates with these blots, and to stamp impressions therefrom on sheets of damped paper. In 1785 he published a pamphlet on this manner of teaching called 'A new Method of assisting the Invention in Drawing original loose positions of scape.’ In 1778 he published by subscription ‘Principles of Beauty relative to the Human Head’ (a work of more ingenuity than value), with nineteen engravings by Bartolozzi. The list of subscribers shows that he was much in favour with the court and the aristocracy, and contains the names of Beckford (afterwards the patron of his son), Burke, Garrick, Flaxman, Reynolds (Sir Joshua), and other distinguished artists and men of culture. Thomas Banks [q. v.] exhibited in 1782, ‘Head of a Majestic Beauty, composed on Mr. Cozens's principles.’ Cozens also published ‘The various Species of Composition in Nature,’ and ‘The Shape, Skeleton, and Foliage of Thirty-two Species of Trees’ (1771, reprinted 1786).

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Leslie's Handbook for Young Painters; Reminiscences of Henry Angelo; Edwards's Anecdotes; Library of the Fine Arts; Graves's Dict. of Artists.]

C. M.