CANADIAN PRAIRIE WATERCOLOUR LANDSCAPES

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JOHN SELL COTMAN, Crambe Beck Bridge near Kirkham, Yorks. formerly called Chirk Aqueduct, 1806-7, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

JOHN SELL COTMAN b. 1782, d. 1842 is, in my estimation, the supreme watercolour painter of his generation. Although his career was not cut short like so many of the famous Romantics -- Keats, Girtin, Schubert -- it was curiously aborted; his best work was done in the first decade of the century when, under the influence of Girtin, he produced a remarkable series of watercolours characterized by firm drawing, delicate washes, and an uncanny sense of design. Atmosphere doesn't play a strong role in Cotman's work; light does. Cotman had a unique ability to give masses and shadows a kind of equivalence in the design which in some respects prefigures Cubism, a full century in the future. In his latter years, Cotman was troubled by fits of depression and this, combined with relative isolation in Norfolk (he was one of the founders of the "Norwich School") led him away from his genius to pursue the influence of Turner and what Ruskin came to call "The Turnerian sublime."


TERRY FENTON