John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
One of my great inspirations of watercolourpainting is John Sell Cotman. Unfortunately well known for the cheap study-watercolour boxes of Winsor&Newton. But Cotman was recognized as a genious painter by is friends and collegues J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Girtin. Cotman was greatly self-taught and in his way he developed a special technique and view in watercolour. Although he was a true Romantic painter, at the same time he was way ahead of his time!
He became well known for his architectual drawings and paintings and that is what you see in all his work, a monumental look to forms and compositions. As a Romantic he was very much fascinated by ruins specially Gothic churches.
And in old England there were many of them! He made many painting-trips through Britain like Yorkshire and Wales but his hometown was Norwich. As a youth he went often painting around Norwich and at Norfolk coast. Later he lived in Great Yarmouth near the coast specially to study waves for his marine-paintings.
The strengh of his watercolours is the almost geometrical shapes with which he builded his paintings and which gives it its monumental expression. His colours are subtle and very transparant so one can see exactly his detailed under-drawing with which he started his compostions.
His palet was very limited with just a few earth-colours like yellow ocker, umbers and bleu and sometimes with a touch of earth-red. You can say that Cotman had a true glacing technigue with clear blotches of paintlayers on top of eachother.
Also he used a great variation of subjectmatters, like groups of trees, architecture, rivers, agrarian landscapes, animals, marine and forestcreeks.
I admire formost his way of tonal values to suggest space in positive/negative manner (light before dark and vice-versa. Also his more or less objective approach of his subjects to get more 'abstraction' in his work.
And of course the atmosphere of the rural countryside which the Romantics found out in the the beginning of the 19th century.
I love the way he spares out the country lanes as thin light treads whirling through the landscape and which gives you the impression you can walk into his paintings!
Although John Sell Cotman was in his time a revered artist, exhibited on all the right places, got several awards and became a member of the 'Royal society of painters in watercolour' He had to struggle his whole life to keep himself and his family financially save and support them as much as possible by teachings. Because of that he suffered depressions and an sense of forlorn.
He died a broken man in 1842 and his work was after that sold in a auction for a paltry sum of 525.- pounds!