Charles West Cope

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Charles West Cope

English High Victorian painter, illustrator and printmaker

Born 1811 - Died 1890

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Charles West Cope painted one of the most telling pictures of the proceedings of the Royal Academy in the nineteenth century. This picture is The Council of the Royal Academy selecting Pictures for Exhibition 1876. Clearly shown are Sir Francis Grant PRA, Frederic Leighton, and John Everett Millais. It was a great advantage to aspiring artists at the time, to have their pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. From the late 1860s to the 1890s the number of pictures submitted for exhibition almost trebled. The Academicians rejected calls for a reform, which would have reduced the number of pictures, which they were allowed to show, without selection, by right of their position. The consequence of this was that the opportunity for other artist’s pictures to be hung was even more limited than would otherwise have been the case. This was widely resented, as was the tendency to “sky” pictures by less than popular artists and newcomers. The following poem appeared, anonymously, in 1875:

“The toil of months, experience of years,
Before the dreaded council now appears:
It’s left their view almost as soon as in it.
They damn them at the rate of three a minute
Scarce time for even faults to be detected,
The cross is chalked: 'tis flung aside ‘REJECTED’.
Shame! That they, Artists, should have such pain given
To those who struggle as themselves have striven”


This system does much to explain the hostility with which some leading artists of the day regarded the RA. Cope also painted the brilliant and humorous The Night Alarm: The Advance of 1871.

Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope RA (1857-1940), was his son.



OBITUARY
The Times, Wednesday, August 27, 1890

It is with regret that we have to record the death of Charles West Cope RA, well-known in the last generation as a painter of historical and domestic scenes. Mr Cope was the son of a painter of no mean reputation and was born in Leeds in 1811. He came to London and first learned of Mr Sass, after which he worked at the RA. After a residence of two years in Italy, on return to these shores his picture of The Holy Family attracted considerable attention, and was purchased by the art patron Mr Beckford. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1833. In 1836 Hagar and Ishmael was executed, followed by The Cronies and Paolo and Francesca in 1837, with Osteria Di Campagne, near Rome in 1838, and The Flemish Mother in 1839. Following closely on these pictures, others were painted, notably Help thy Father in his Age, Almsgiving, Poor Law Guardians. He also painted a considerable number of pictures from the poets, such as The Schoolmaster Goldsmith Hope - her silent watch the Mother Keeps, The Hawthorn Bush, and The Cotter’s Saturday Night.

In 1843 he entered the Westminster Hall competition, and his capital cartoon of First Trial by Jury gained a £300 prize. The following year found him in another competition for fresco designs, and his success with The Meeting of Joseph and Rachel procured for him a commission of one of the six frescoes for the new House of Lords. Edward the Black Prince of 1845 was followed by a commission from Prince Albert for The last days of Cardinal Wolsey. Having been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1844 he was in 1848 an Academician. Besides other pictures in the New Palace he produced others of a domestic character, among them being The Young Mother, Girl at Prayer, Maiden Meditation, First Born, Creeping Like a Snail Unwillingly to School. Among others may be mentioned King Lear and Ophelia, Royal Prisoners, Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers, Upward Gazing, Repose, Convalescent, Scholar’s mate.

He worked on some eight frescoes for the Peers corridor of the Houses of Parliament. The subjects are The Raising of the Royal Standard, The Defence of Basing House, The Burial of Charles the First, Speaker Leathall Asserting the Privileges of the House of Commons. Since completion of the last named works Mr Cope has exhibited many pictures at the Royal Academy, the chief names being Shylock and Jessica 1867, Othello Relating his Adventures 1868, Home Dreams, 1869, Gentle and Simple, 1871.

Mr Cope was not forgetful of his birthplace, for he presented an Altar-Piece for St George’s Church, Leeds where it has stood since 1839 as a memorial. Mr Cope was an original member of the Etching Club, and his plate The Life Class of the Royal Academy ranks as one of the most vigorous subjects ever etched by an Englishman. Mr Cope was Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy from 1867 to 1874, and was a trustee of that body. He resided at Cranford-rise in Maidenhead, but died on Thursday last at Bournemouth in his eightieth year, leaving a widow and several sons to mourn him.

Source:
  • These articles have been reprinted with the kind permission of Paul Ripley, from his website: Victorian Art in Britain.
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    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz