Thursday, August 12, 2010

Colin Campbell Cooper

Colin Campbell Cooper
Colin Campbell Cooper was an American impressionist painter active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He was, within that rather loose classification, the foremost among them in the portrayal of architecture. He is also one of my personal favorites.

Known for both his later paintings of California gardens and landmarks, as well as his earlier paintings of New York skyscrapers, Cooper also turned his lush palette and virtuoso brush to other subjects.

His painting of Lower Broadway in Wartime (above, 2nd down, right) is in the museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts here in Philadelphia. I’ll sometimes stand and look at it for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. What’s not obvious from these small reproductions on the web is that Cooper’s paintings can be marvels of texture and color mixing, with luminous transitions of one color passage into another within the surface of a single wall.

Areas that appear highly detailed are in fact very painterly, with much more suggested than overtly painted. (I’ve listed links below to previous auction sales on Sotheby’s and Christie’s that can often be zoomed in to levels of considerable magnification.)

Cooper was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Eakins, as well as training at the Académie Julian in Paris. He taught for a time at the Drexel Insitute of Art Science and Industry (now Drexel University, also home to such noted art teachers as Howard Pyle).

Cooper married Emma Lampert, herself a well known artist, and the couple traveled and painted in Europe and Aisa as well as across the U.S. Notably they traveled to India, at the time far off the track for even the most adventurous American and European travelers, and Cooper returned to create from his location sketches stunning paintings of the Taj Mahal, the palace gate at Udaipur and other locations rarely seen in the West.

After the death of his wife in 1920, Cooper moved to California, perhaps to start over. The move marked a separate phase of his career in which his style and subject matter changed and he exhibited a renewed interest in including figures in his paintings. He taught and later became Dean at the School of Painting at the Santa Barbara Community School of Arts.

There is currently an exhibition of Cooper’s work at the Santa Barbara Museum in California, Lasting Impressions: Colin Campbell Cooper, that runs until October 8, 2010.

As far as I know there is only one in-print book on Cooper’s work: East Coast/West Coast and Beyond: Colin Campbell Cooper, American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon and William Gerdts (Gerdts is a well known authority and author of several books on American Impressionism). The book was from a 2007 exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum. My impression is that this is the same exhibition that is currently at the Santa Barbara Museum.

There is a very nice 10 page article on Cooper and the current exhibition in the August issue of American Art Review, written by Deborah Epstein Solon, co-author of the book mentioned above, and illustrated with numerous images of Cooper’s work. This issue is still on the shelves as of this writing and should eventually be available as a back issue from the publisher. Cooper’s work is also featured on the cover.

 
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