The eldest child of John Sell Cotman, Miles Edmund Cotman became his father’s closest associate and collaborator. Indeed, he produced work so close in style and high in quality that his father sometimes signed it as his own. However, he developed into an artist of some individuality, being known for his seascapes as well as his architectural studies. Miles Edmund Cotman was born in Wymer Street, Norwich on 5 February 1810, though he spent most of his early years in Great Yarmouth, and studied there under his father, John Sell Cotman. In 1823, when the Cotmans returned to Norwich and took a house at St Martin-at-Palace Plain, Miles began to exhibit with the Norwich Society of Artists (continuing to show there for a decade). In the following year, he became his father’s assistant when a School of Drawing was set up in their house.
A decade later, John Sell Cotman was appointed drawing master at King’s College School, London, and Miles Edmund became his assistant, a position that was officially recognised two years later.
Then, on the death of his father, in 1842, he became the drawing master. He remained in the Cotman family home, at 42 Hunter Street, near Brunswick Square, until 1843. In London, he exhibited with the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Society of British Artists between 1835 and 1856.
Specialising in seascapes, landscapes and buildings, Miles Edmund worked mainly in watercolour, while also producing oils, etchings and lithographs. Initially influenced by his father, and also William James Müller and Richard Parkes Bonington, he gradually developed a distinctive style of increasing fluidity.
On 16 May 1842, Miles Edmund married a widow, Mrs Elizabeth Juby (née Worts); together they would have a son and two daughters. By 1851, the family was living at 9 Hollis Place, Haverstock Hill. However, ill health brought on by overwork led him to return to Norfolk by 1854. After living for a period with his brother, John Joseph Cotman, he finally removed to North Walsham, where he taught and painted, though he was often in poverty.
Eventually Miles Edmund was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital with a diseased ankle, and died on 23 January 1858.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; and Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.
Further reading: C F Bell, ‘Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858) with a catalogue of fifty drawings by him selected from the Bulwer collection’, Walker's Quarterly, vol 21, 1927 (whole issue) Norma Watt, ‘Cotman, Miles Edmund (1810-1858)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 13, page 577