Tuesday, April 15, 2008

George Vicat Cole - On Holmbury Hill (+ biog)

[On Holmbury Hill]

In 1863 George Cole set up home at Holmbury Cottage next to the hill and lived there for five years.

George Vicat Cole (1833–1893), landscape painter, was born in Portsmouth on 17 April 1833, eldest of five children of the landscape painter George Cole (1810–1883) and Eliza Vicat (d. 1883). Initially exhibiting as ‘George Cole, junior’, from the mid-1850s he adopted his mother's French Huguenot maiden name to distinguish his name from that of his father. Later in life the younger Cole dropped ‘George’ altogether, using ‘Vicat’ (pronounced with a long i) as his first name. As a boy Cole was taught by his father and accompanied the older painter on journeys round country houses, where they would paint portraits of the owners, their horses, and dogs. He also made copies of prints after works of Turner and David Cox. Father and son took sketching tours together, in England, Wales, and also to the Moselle. In 1852 George Cole sold up in Portsmouth and moved to Fulham; among the auction lots were twenty-seven works by the younger artist. 1852 saw Cole's work exhibited in London for the first time: View from Ranmore Common was favourably hung at the British Institution galleries and sold for £21. At the time of his twentieth birthday, in 1853, two of his works were accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

After a quarrel with his father in 1855, Cole rented rooms in Torriano Villas, Camden, and, on 7 November 1856, married Mary Ann Chignell (d. 1915), daughter of a wealthy Hampshire tradesman. The years 1857–9 were spent at the picturesque village of Albury in Surrey, where Cole, his wife, and the first of three daughters (Mary Blanche, born in 1858) were joined by the painter Benjamin Williams Leader. Cole's breakthrough came with Harvest Time, Painted at Hombury Hill, Surrey (1860; Bristol City Art Gallery), a large canvas completed in the open air, strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. The Society of Arts awarded Cole a silver medal for the work. In 1861 Cole moved to 19 Gloucester Road, Kensington, travelling annually in search of subject matter. In 1863 he resigned from the Society of British Artists in order to seek election as a Royal Academician. His works from this period, such as Springtime (1865; Manchester City Art Galleries), espouse a brilliantly detailed and highly coloured Pre-Raphaelite realism. His work increasingly concentrated on Surrey landscapes: Summer's Golden Crown returned to a harvest subject with conspicuous success at the Royal Academy in 1866 and the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867. Cole's style broadened in the late 1860s: the dramatic A Pause in the Storm at Sunset (exh. RA, 1869) impressed public and critics alike. In January 1870 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and from that time rarely exhibited his work in any other forum.

Assured of financial, if not always critical, success, Cole moved in 1874 to Little Campden House, an elegant early eighteenth-century mansion in Kensington. In the large studio he pursued his interest in science, also fitting automatic gates and an early telephone. His biographer, Robert Chignell, describes Cole's ‘fine head, with handsome clearly-marked features … set on a well-knit form of about 5 feet 7 inches in height’ (Chignell, 1.3). His character was quiet and reserved, though he was described by the landscape painter B. W. Leader as ‘most good-tempered, liberal and hospitable, fond of a joke’ (ibid., 3.141). Both at his home and on his Thames steam launch, The Blanche, he entertained a circle of friends which included Frederic Leighton, John Everett Millais, and many other leading artists, notably Edward Linley Sambourne who referred to the group as ‘the Calithrumpkins’ (Cole papers).

Cole continued to produce a series of large exhibition landscapes of Surrey and Sussex subjects through the 1870s, but expanded his range with Richmond Hill (exh. RA, 1875) and The Alps at Rosenlaui (exh. RA, 1878). After his election to the status of full academician, in 1880, he worked exclusively on a series of major paintings of the Thames from its source to the sea, commissioned by the dealer William Agnew. During these years he became a well-known figure on the river, often painting from his steam launch. After a series of rural scenes, he surprised his public in 1888 with a grandiose canvas, The Pool of London (exh. RA, 1888; Tate collection), in which smoke and cloud at sunset part to reveal the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. Dramatic and painterly, it betrays none of the precise naturalism that had distinguished his earliest work. The Pool of London was purchased for £2000 under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest. W. E. Gladstone later wrote to Cole's biographer, Robert Chignell, expressing his admiration for the work.

Vicat Cole's work, like that of his father, George Cole, is variable in quality, but he was able at his best to produce landscapes exactly suited to the demands of the mid-Victorian public. Despite the lavish tributes paid by Leighton and others after he died at his home in Kensington on 6 April 1893, his work soon came to seem outmoded. He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, London. Robert Chignell's lavish three-volume biography, published in 1896, provides reproductions of a large number of his works. His son, Reginald George Vicat Cole (1870–1940), who assisted his father in the early 1890s, became a landscape painter, author, and teacher.

Tim Barringer

Sources R. Chignell, The life and paintings of Vicat Cole, RA (1896)



1 comment:

Abbé Henri Proust said...

We have just found a large framed lithograph of the 'Pool of London' dating from about 1907, published by the Tate. Engraving by Hanfstaengl. While the original is in the Tate collection, it is today inaccessible in the south London store. Even the large engraving is impressive, and although many would criticise its 'Victorian' quality, to my eye it is quite a masterpiece of movement, light and genre. I can understand its attraction to PM Gladstone. howardcopping@gmail.com