Friday, August 20, 2010

Thomas Sidney Cooper - The Chequered Shade

Price Realized £160,650

signed and dated 'F.R. Lee. RA. 1854' (lower left)
oil on canvas
78¾ x 66¼ in. (200 x 168.2 cm.)

Arthur C. Burnand; Christie's, London, 26 March 1892, lot 55 (250 gns to Clarke).

T.S. Cooper, My Life, London, 1890, vol. II, p. ix & 315.
S. Sartin, Thomas Sidney Cooper C.V.O., R.A., Leigh-on-Sea, 1976, p. 64, no. 117.
D. Robertson, Sir Charles Eastlake and the Victorian Art World, New Jersey, 1978, p. 375, pl. 178.

London, Royal Academy, 1854, no. 362.
London, International Exhibition, 1862, no. 203.

According to Cooper, it was during a visit to Lee at his house in Devon that a mutual decision was made to '...paint some pictures conjointly'. Lee was to paint the landscape first and Cooper to introduce the animals - and, at Lee's insistence, to handle the financial arrangements. In the late 1840s both artists were at the height of their popularity and their exhibited collaborations in the Dutch tradition created a 'great sensation' at the Royal Academy when they first appeared. Prince Albert commented that they had '...caused a new want among patrons' and pronounced them 'the Beaumont and Fletcher of Art'. But by the mid-1850s, however, the art critics were tiring of their annual productions. To what extent the adverse criticism resulted from a gradual resentment from their fellow artists is uncertain. Lee's somewhat cavalier attitude to his profession, which he considered '...more as a pastime than as a business', together with the surprising rapidity with which both artists could produce large highly finished compositions of undoubted quality, combined with the long list of patrons eager to purchase the results, naturally rankled with artists of lesser talent. Lee and Cooper's nine consecutive years of exhibiting their collaborations at the Royal Academy and elsewhere ended in 1856. However, the fifteen Academy exhibits (of which the present work is one) represent less than a quarter of their total joint productions. Both Cooper and Lee collaborated with other artists, but theirs was by far the most productive and successful partnership. Long after Lee's death at sea in 1879, Cooper was still being approached to add animals into Lee's early paintings.

The title, describing the sunlight filtering through the canopy of foliage, is taken from John Milton's poem L'Allegro:

The up-land Hamlets will invite,
When the merry Bells ring round,
And the jocond rebecks sound
To many a youth, and many a maid,
Dancing in the Chequer'd shade.

L'Allegro was written in conjunction with its companion piece, Il Penseroso. Whereas l'allegro is 'the happy person' who spends an idealized day in the country and a festive evening in the city, il penseroso is 'the thoughtful person' whose night is filled with meditative walking in the woods and hours of study in a 'lonely Towr.' [sic] First published in 1645, the two poems complement each other structurally and contain images which are in specific dialogue with one another.

Cooper had gone to the continent in 1827 and remained in Brussels as a teacher until 1831. During this time he was influenced by the Belgian animal painter Eugène Verboeckhoven (1798/9-1881) and by the works of several seventeenth century Dutch masters such as Paulus Potter (1625-1654). The composition of this work is undoutedly inspired by Meindert Hobbema's The Avenue at Middelharnis (1689; National Gallery, London) which was hung in the Town Hall at Middelharnis from 1782 to 1822 and then purchased by Sir Robert Peel, Bt who owned it until 1871 when it was purchased for the National Gallery.

When The Chequered Shade was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854, the critic for the Art Journal was of the opinion that it was 'The picture represented an avenue - a class of subject which the former of these artists paints so successfully. A flock of sheep is distributed within the shade of the trees, which are pierced by the sunlight, an incident described with an imitative truth, perfectly illusive.'
The first recorded owner of this picture was Arthur C. Burnand (c. 1802-1892), an Insurance Underwriter with Lloyds. Both he and his brother Theophilus amassed important collections of paintings purchased directly - and often specifically commissioned - from the leading artists of the period. Between them they owned three paintings by Cooper and each bought a work by Lee and Cooper, (Theophilus' painting by Lee and Cooper Avenue with Cattle of 1856 was a remarkably similar composition to the present work, albeit smaller (28 x 35½ in.), most probably commissioned from the artists as a direct result of his admiration for his brother's purchase two years earlier). The Burnand brothers were well liked and respected by the artists whose company they enjoyed. Cooper in particular also shared their enthusiasm for music and the theatre. He and Arthur were both amateur singers and Cooper and Theophilus were alike in hosting musical soirées at their London houses.

We are grateful to Kenneth Westwood for his help in preparing this entry.

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