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Updated: June 6, 2013 01:04 IST

The fascinating depiction of animals

B. KOTAIAH
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Sheep in Landscape, Oil on wood, by Cooper.
Sheep in Landscape, Oil on wood, by Cooper.

T.S. Cooper’s paintings of animals exhibit his eye for the picturesque in nature,attention to detail and his matchless capacity for anatomical correctness

England gave birth to some great animal painters. Landseer was famous for his dogs, J. Heering was a master of rabbits, James Ward won acclaim for his horses, and T.S. Cooper got renown for his excellent stock (sheep and cows) in scenic surroundings. There is a museum in England devoted to Cooper’s works. Museums of repute the world over including the Salar Jung Museum count Cooper’s cattle paintings as their proud possessions.

Born in 1803, Thomas Sydney Cooper set out to become a painter amidst hardships. Discarded by his father, persuaded in vain by his mother from following painting, Cooper started sketching, untutored, at the age of 14. Dissatisfied with doing theatre scenes for livelihood and unable to pay for his stay at the Royal Academy schools in London, Cooper went on foot to Brussels, Belgium, where he stayed for four years making portraits.

His friendship with Verbockhoven, a famous Belgian painter of animals in landscapes and his study of the works of the immortal Dutch painters Cuyp, Paul Potter and Bergenheim so excited his admiration for cattle in landscapes that he resolved to devote his skill to this branch of art.

Returning to England, Cooper started to labour hard over his pictures. From dawn to dusk he used to work in the meadows studying animals and nature. Some pictures he produced in partnership with P.S. Lee, a noted landscapist. Commissions came in.

In 1845 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and a Royal Academician in 1867. He donated to his native place, Canterbury, the Sydney Cooper Art gallery. He wrote his memoirs under the title ‘My life’ in 1890. He died in 1902.

Cooper’s pictures in the Museum, numbering three, exhibit to advantage the good qualities of his art: his eye for the picturesque in nature, his attention to detail and his matchless capacity for anatomical correctness.

‘Cattle in repose’ a large oil on canvas, signed and dated 1877, is a product of his mature age. Among the resting cattle the standing cow, nobly drawn, compels our attention. The golden light of the declining sun heightens the tints of the cow’s hides. The horizon, placed low, proclaims the influence of Paul Potter, the famous Dutch animal painter.

‘Sheep in Landscape’, also signed dated 1876, shows three sheep ruminating near a stretch of clear, limpid water. Clouds, coloured varied, float in the light blue sky. The third picture, though a repeat of sheep, is fascinating.

The ground is filled with powdery snow. The thick fleece of the sheep, streaked red on neck, is delineated with skill. Clouds, vaporously treated, scamper away in the sky. The picture bears the artist’s signature and is dated 1862.

B. Kotaiah is Dep. Keeper (Retd), Salar Jung Museum

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