'Cotman in Normandy'
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
10 October 2012-13 January 2013
Cotman in Normandy
Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2012, ISBN 978-1-898519-30-0
Timothy Wilcox has returned to the Dulwich Hcture Gallery as curator of an exhibition for the second time in a decade. His first venture was a wide-ranging show in 2005 entitled 'The Triumph of Watercolour' to celebrate the bicentenary of the Royal Watercolour Society;, which displayed 100 or so works by painters as divergent as Paul Sandby and Samuel Palmer. The current exhibition, in contrast, is focused on a single artist, John Sell Cotman, and seeks to investigate the circumstances and draw out the consequences of the artist's three visits to Normandy, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, in 1817, 1818 and 1820. The text of a selectively illustrated catalogue, which accompanies the exhibition, is extracted from Wflcox's forthcoming full-length study of Cotman's work in Normandy, which is expected to be published in 2014.
Although Cotman has been justly celebrated over the past 100 years as an innovatory watercolour painter, his reputation during his oven lifetime was founded mainly on his prowess as an architectural draughtsman. He shared this antiquarian passion with his long-term patron and employer, the Yarmouth gentleman banker and polymath, Dawson Turner. While part-time tutor to the Turner family, he undertook a comprehensive survey of Norfolk's medieval churches and castles, some in advanced stages of disrepair, which bore fruit in the publication of three volumes of etchings in 1817-18, including the amply illustrated Architectural Antiquities of Norfolk.
The antiquarian impulse also prompted the Normandy project. Dawson Turner had himself been prospecting in Rouen in 1815, and had an impressive number of contacts amongst the scholarly community in the province, some of whom proved invaluable to Cotman on his expeditions there. The venture was partly financed by Dawson Turner's partner in the bank, Hudson Gurney, who was a leading light in the Society of Antiquaries in London. There, politics and culture mingled as opinions clashed over whether the gothic style of architecture had originated in France or England. There were also arguments over what elements in the earlier romanesque style were attributable to Norman or Saxon influence--also something of a cultural hot potato. Cotman, on his trips to the province, was drawn to record primarily...