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John Sell Cotman AOWS (1782-1842)

John Sell Cotman, AOWS (1782-1842)

Though working in oils and as an etcher, John Sell Cotman is best remembered as a watercolourist of great originality, who rivalled the achievement of J M W Turner and remains an inspiration to artists today. In combining strong draughtsmanship and a confident application of flat washes, he managed to ‘translate the patterns of nature into exquisite two dimensional designs’ (Andrew W Moore, in Jane Turner 1996, vol 8 p 27).

John Sell Cotman was born in the parish of St Mary Coslany, Norwich on 16 May 1782, the son of a hairdresser, who later became a haberdasher. At the age of eleven, he gained a free place at Norwich Grammar School.

In 1798, Cotman moved to London, where he worked as an assistant to printseller and publisher, Rudolph Ackermann. In the following year, he left Ackermann’s service and received the patronage of Dr Thomas Monro, so gaining the same opportunity as J M W Turner and Thomas Girtin to study and copy examples from a significant collection of English watercolours.

While living at 28 Gerrard Street, Soho, in 1800, Cotman exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time and, in the same year, was awarded a large silver palette by the Society of Arts for his drawing of a mill. During this period, he supported himself by selling his drawings to local print-sellers, one of which – Peter Norton – sent him to Bristol with an introduction to his brother, a bookseller.

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Cottage (1)
Lakes & Lochs (1)
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