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John Sell Cotman
Dates: British, 1782 - 1842
Biographical Account:

English painter and etcher John Sell Cotman was born on the 16th May 1782 in Norwich. Cotman moved to London in 1798 to work as an assistant to Rudolph Ackermann, a publisher of engravings and a dealer.


Cotman painted scenes from his many tours around England and Europe. He used translucent layers of wash and created subtle shadows defining shape with the crisp edges of his washes rather than with outline. This added to the depth to his paintings by letting the colour gather in pools. His subjects of colour and form show suggest an element of abstraction.


Cotman first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 and the same year was awarded the Silver Palette by the Society of Arts.


Yorkshire was a huge influence to Cotman and it was in 1805, on this third visit to North Yorkshire, that he made the famous sequence of watercolour studies on the river Greta near Barnard Castle on the Yorkshire-Durham border.


Failing to become a member of the recently founded Society of Painters in Water Colours (known later as the Old Watercolour society) Cotman set up a school of drawing in Norwich and exhibited a retrospective of several hundred pieces of his work.


Between 1817 and 1820 under the instruction of Dawson Turner, Cotman went on three tours to Normandy where he documented a full account of his travels gathering information for Turners publication of Architectural Antiquities of Normandy. This consisted of two volumes and contained 97 of Cotman’s etchings.


In 1834 Cotman returned to London to take up the position of drawing master at King’s College School, where he remained a successful teacher and taught Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his younger brother William.


He died on the 24th July 1842 at his home in Bloomsbury of “natural decay”.

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