E. W. Cooke

(1811—1880) marine artist and gardener

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English marine artist. Trained in his father's studio, where drawings by some of the chief artists of the day, including J. M. W Turner, passed through for engraving, Edward William Cooke had the Port of London—with massed international shipping—almost on his doorstep, providing subjects of absorbing interest for a youngster with an obsessional desire to show how things were constructed and how they worked. Fine draftsmanship and attention to detail, fostered by the engraver's art, resulted in his production in 1829 (at age seventeen) of Fifty Plates of Shipping and Craft, enlarged in 1831 to Sixty Five Plates of Shipping and Craft, a volume of small etched plates that is still justly celebrated for its detailed record of build and rig among everyday boats and vessels of many types. There had been similar collections before, but Cooke's standard showed a new seriousness, as much nautical archaeology as marine art. He was aware of rapid changes occurring among the vehicles of seaborne commerce. Steam had arrived, the age of the photographer was dawning, and Cooke by 1840 had established himself as an exacting marine recorder, visiting France, the Netherlands, and Italy during the first half of the century. Working craft in their environment interested him profoundly, more than current movements in art, and he became known for this uncompromising attention to structure and a determination to illustrate the rig of even the smallest craft. Aiming to join the art establishment, with election to the Royal Academy as the pinnacle of his profession (achieved in 1864), he exhibited many paintings from 1834, in London and in the provinces. He became known as “Van Kook” from his devoted depiction of Netherlands fishing and trading boats and, after 1851, increasingly for his views of the lagoons and islands around Venice, with their variety of characteristic craft, which Cooke painted from his adapted gondola. Specialization, a characteristic of Victorian painters, led to the Royal Academy and a picture-buying public relying on E. W. Cooke to provide decorative portraits of exotic craft in an authentic setting, portraits that today are recognized as possessing archaeological significance. The Mediterranean coasts of Spain and North Africa as well as the Nile River yielded models of working sailing craft that were added to his repertoire. Geological features as well as atmospheric or meteorological phenomena were a special study and delight, so that experts in many fields applauded his work.


From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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