~ ITALIAN LANDSCAPES ~
Cooper Jnr was born in Edinburgh and trained with his father, the engraver Richard Cooper Snr (1701-1764). He moved to London in 1761 but by 1767 was on the Continent; first in France (Paris), then Spain and Portugal. He was in Italy by 1771 and stayed until late 1775.
Cooper spent most of his time in Rome and Naples, but travelled as far South as Paestum (Cf. no.37), and as far North as Venice. In Italy his circle included Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), John Downman (1750-1784), George Romney (1734-1802), Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), Mauritius Lowe (1746-1793), and fellow Scots, John Brown (1752-1787), Jacob More (1740-1793) and Alexander Runciman (1736-1785). These men all worked, to a lesser or greater extent, under the influence of the Swiss painter Henrich Fuseli (1741-1825). Bold, dramatic works – mainly drawings – broadly treated in monochrome washes, were the order of the day. In Landscape, Veduti of famous sites (Eg. nos. 1, 8, 25) and Capricci (Eg. nos. 2, 15, 28) were still the most fashionable Modes. But as the group below demonstrates, Cooper was one of those artists becoming increasingly concerned with conveying a more genuine ‘sense of place’ (Eg. nos. 14, 16 32). Drawings of narrow lanes shaded from raking southern light, pine trees glimpsed over ancient walls, the crumbling plaster and masonary of domestic buildings, are all reminiscent of the more familiar works of Thomas Jones (1742-1803) and Francis Towne (1739-1816), who arrived in Italy after Cooper left, and look towards the generations of Romantic landscape painters that would ‘re-discover’ Italy in the nineteenth-century.
Cooper’s intention in going abroad was to make copy drawings from Old Master paintings so he could publish engravings. But this grand scheme of prints did not emerge. The twelve large Italian Landscapes he published in aquatint between 1778 and 1779 were the main body of work to come from the material he gathered on his travels. These prints – a technical tour-de-force in a medium that was still in its infancy – established his reputation as a Landscape Draughtsman and Printmaker, not Copy Engraver. He exhibited landscapes at the Royal Academy annually from 1788 to 1808, and taught drawing at Eton College and to the Royal Princesses. The Series of landcape prints he published in soft-ground etching (1799/1800), and lithography (1802-1806) are, like these Italian Landscapes of the 1770s, a demonstration of Cooper’s great flair for, and knowledge of, Landscape Composition.
‘The Cooper Album’, a bound collection of landscape drawings by Cooper Jnr, probably compiled by a family member late in the artist’s life, or perhaps soon after his death. Exhibited: Legacy: Richard Cooper Jnr (1740-1822) and the Artist’s Album. UCL Art Museum, 2017.
These have all been in an album since the early nineteenth-century so are entirely unfaded. They are working drawings. Cooper kept them with him all his life; many travelled back with him from Italy. We have been careful to leave them as they were when compiled into the album – free from a conservator’s hand – with inevitable signs of age and studio use.