Cooper, Thomas Sidney (DNB12)

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COOPER, THOMAS SIDNEY (1803–1902), animal painter, was born in St. Peter's Street, Canterbury, on 26 Sept. 1803. His mother was left to bring up her family of two sons and three daughters entirely by her own exertions. After a, very slender school education Cooper was engaged in 1815 by a coach-builder, the uncle of a school friend named William Burgess, to learn and practise coach - painting. As a child he was seen by George Cattermole [q. v.] sketching the cathedral on his slate, and received from him a gift of the first pencils and paper that he used. His sketching of the cathedral was also noticed by Archbishop Manners Sutton, who encouraged him and gave him his first commissions for drawings. He was also helped and instructed by a scene-painter, Doyle, who had noticed him at his work; and as the coach-builder no longer wanted his services, he took seriously to scene-painting, being engaged by the manager of a company which played in Faversham, Folkestone, and Hastings. Returning to Canterbury after the company broke up, he again turned to coach-painting, and between this and occasional work as a scene-painter and draughtsman earned his living until he was twenty.

About 1823 he was invited by an uncle, a dissenting minister named Elvey, to London. He at once got permission to copy in the British Museum, and there made the acquaintance of Stephen Catterson Smith [q. v.] and George Richmond [q. v.], then students like himself. He obtained his recommendation to the council of the Royal Academy through Abraham Cooper, R.A. [q. v.] (no relative), and submitted drawings which secured his admission to the Academy schools at the same time as Smith and Richmond. He also received marked encouragement from Sir Thomas Lawrence. But at this critical moment his uncle proved unable to keep him, and he had no resource but to return to Canterbury. For three or four years he earned a living as a drawing-master in Canterbury, Dover, Margate, and Herne Bay. In 1827 he crossed the Channel with his old school friend Burgess, and by dint of drawing the portraits of his hosts at the various inns on his road managed to pay his way to Brussels. Here he soon secured a large number of pupils, and what was even more fortunate, the friendship of the Belgian animal painter Verboekhoven, who greatly influenced the formation of Cooper's style. But both painters found their chief models in Cuyp and Potter and the Dutch school of the seventeenth century, and made up for the lack of originality by the thoroughness of their methods and the faithfulness of their renderings of nature. Cooper took to painting in oil about this period; hitherto he had done little except water-colour and pencil drawings. Up till the last he was most careful in his use of the pencil in outlining the main features of even his largest paintings in oil.

While in Brussels he also produced two lithographs after pictures in Prince d'Aremberg's collection (Paul Potter and A. van de Velde). Another lithograph (a view of Dover) is dated 1825, while practically all his other drawings on stone were produced before 1840 (e.g. a series of rustic figures, dated 1833, and published by Dickinson in 1834; another similar series published by F. G. Moon in 1837; a series illustrating hop-growing; studies of cattle, two series, published by S. and J. Fuller, about 1835 and 1837; thirty-four subjects of cattle, published by T. McLean in 1837; groups of cattle drawn from nature, twenty-six lithographs, published by Ackerman, 1839).

He also did a large line-engraving after Landseer (interior of a Scottish cotter's home), which does not seem to have been published (impression in collection of Mr. Neville Cooper). The revolution of 1830 meant the loss of many of his patrons, who had left Brussels at the crisis. Returning to England, he settled in London early in 1831, and for some time earned his living by doing drawings and lithographs for box lids, &c., for Ackerman and others, continuing to practise his painting of sheep and cattle in Regent's Park. His first exhibit at Suffolk Street in 1833 at once brought him into notice, and secured him a patron in Robert Vernon. He exhibited forty-eight pictures in all at the British Institution between 1833 and 1863. He also had occasional exhibits at the Society of British Artists, the New Water Colour Society, the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil-colours, and at exhibitions of the Liverpool Academy and Royal Manchester Institution. A picture, 'Landscape and Cattle,' was hung in the Royal Academy in 1833. It now belongs to Lord Northbrook. It was the first of a series of 266 exhibits which were shown without the interruption of a single year down to 1902. His Royal Academy pictures in 1843-5 ('Watering Cattle, Evening' ; 'Repose' ; 'Going to Pasture') greatly increased his popularity, and in 1845 he was elected A.R.A. Studies of sheep or cattle were his constant subjects, but in 1846 he attempted a large historical painting, the 'Defeat of Kellermann's Cuirassiers at Waterloo' (the half-past one o'clock charge), which was exhibited with the 'Cartoons' in Westminster Hall in 1847. This picture and a 'Hunting Scene' (R.A. 1890) were isolated examples of an endeavour to depict vigorous action ; he cannot be said to have succeeded in excursions outside the somewhat narrow field of his art. Between 1848 and 1856 he painted the cattle in numerous landscapes by Frederick Lee, R.A. (examples being preserved in South Kensington and the Tate Gallery). Fifteen of these were shown at the Academy and four at the British Institution between 1849 and 1855. He also painted animals in several of Creswick's landscapes. This middle period probably contains the best of his work. After about 1870 commissions were so constant and so lucrative that he was tempted to yield to facile repetition of his favourite themes, seldom developing new subjects or giving the requisite thought to those that he repeated. Among the best pictures may be mentioned 'Drovers crossing Newbigging Muir in a Snowdrift, East Cumberland' (R.A. 1860) ; 'Drovers collecting their Flocks under the Fells, East Cumberland' (R.A. 1861 ; for the earl of Ellesmere) ; ' Catching Wild Goats on Moel Siabod, North Wales' (Brit. Inst. 1863); 'The Shepherd's Sabbath' (R.A. 1866). He was elected R.A. in 1867, presenting 'Milking Time in the Meadows' for the diploma gallery in 1869. In 1873 and 1874 he exhibited two pictures of bulls, 'The Monarch of the Meadows' (sold in 1873 to Mr. J. D. Allcroft for 2500l.) and 'Separated, but not Divorced.' His largest picture, 'Pushing off for Tilbury Fort, on the Thames,' painted when he was eighty, was exhibited at the Academy in 1884. In 1848 he purchased land at Harbledown near Canterbury, calling the house which he had built 'Vernon Holme,' after his early patron. He still kept on his London house and studio, but 'Vernon Holme' remained his retreat until his death, in his ninety-ninth year, on 7 Feb. 1902. He published his autobiography under the title My Life' (2 vols. 1890). His activity continued to the last, and he was engaged on pictures intended for the Royal Academy of 1902 within a few weeks of his death. In 1901 he was made C.V.O. by King Edward VII. Soon after the death of his mother in 1865 he had bought her house in St. Peter's Street, Canterbury, and an adjacent block, converting it into a school of art and picture gallery, with the purpose of giving free tuition to poor boys. In 1882 he presented the gallery (to be known as the 'Sidney Cooper Gallery of Art' ) to the town of Canterbury, making the condition that only a nominal fee should be charged for tuition to the artisan classes. On the acceptance of the gift, the corporation decided to convert the gallery into a regular school of art, and affiliate it with South Kensington. The following public galleries possess one or more of his pictures : National Gallery (two pictures from the Vernon collection, 'Milking Time,' exhibited R.A. 1834, and 'Cattle, Morning,' R.A. 1847, now on loan to the Albert Museum, Exeter, and to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, respectively) ; National Gallery of British Art (the Tate Gallery) (three pictures, one done in collaboration with Frederick Lee, R.A.) ; Victoria and Albert Museum (three pictures, one in collaboration with Frederick Lee) ; Wallace collection ; Royal Academy, Diploma Gallery ; Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum ; Birmingham Art Gallery ; Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery; Manchester Art Gallery; Glasgow Art Gallery; Canterbury, Royal Museum (Beaney Institute); Canterbury, Sidney Cooper School of Art; public galleries at Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide. Two pictures are in the royal collection, the 'Pasture, Osborne' (done at Queen Victoria's invitation in 1848), and 'Carisbrook Castle' (painted in 1837, and presented by the artist to the Queen in 1887).

The following are some of his pictures that have been engraved: 'Milking Time' (R.A. 1834; Vernon Coll., Nat. Gall.; engraved by J. Godfrey); 'Cattle, Morning' (R.A. 1847; Vernon Coll., Nat. Gall.; engraved by J. Cousen); 'The Pasture, Osborne' (1848, Royal Collection; engraved by C. Cousen); 'Goatherd of Snowdon' (mezzotint by J. Harris, 1850); 'Kentish Farmyard' (mezzotint by R. B. Parkes, 1864); 'The Sheep Farm' (mixed mezzotint by C. C. Hollyer, 1872); 'Summer Evening' (mixed mezzotint by H. Sedcole, 1903); 'Landscape and Cattle' (1855, reproduced in 'Pictures in the Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan,' 1907).

He married (1) on 1 Oct. 1829, Charlotte Pearson (d. 1842), the daughter of an English resident in Brussels, having issue three daughters and one son, Thomas George (1835-1901), who followed his father as an animal painter, and exhibited at the British Institution and Royal Academy 1861-96; (2) in 1863, Mary, daughter of W. Cameron of Canterbury, and had issue Neville Louis (&. 1864). The following oil portraits are known: (1) by himself, 1832; (2) by Walter Scott, 1841; (3) by W. W. Ouless, R.A., 1889 (all three in the collection of Mr. Neville Cooper); (4) another by Walter Scott, 1841 (exhibited R.A. 1842), was formerly in the possession of his daughter Lucy (Mrs. Coxon), and now belongs to his grand-daughter, Mrs. Alfred Earle. Thomas George Cooper exhibited an etched portrait of his father at the Royal Academy in 1884.

[My Life, by T. Sidney Cooper, 2 vols., 1890; Graves, Royal Acad. Exhibitors, and Exhibitors at the British Institution; Lists of the Printsellers' Association; The Times, 8 Feb. 1902; information supplied by Mr. Neville Cooper.]

A. M. H.