George Cole (1810-1883), it has been said, was a perfect example of the self-made man in the Victorian era. His father was a wastrel and his education was rudimentary, yet he was able to self-educate himself and successfully develop his talents until he became one of the leading British landscape painters.
The art world seems divided as to Cole’s first experiences as a painter. One, more romantic view relates that he discovered his painting talent as an advertising painter for the showman George Wombell’s Traveling Menagerie. Impressed by the young artist’s work, Wombell eventually had Cole producing very large show-cloths. Eager to improve his skills, the budding artist is said to have gone off to Holland for a time to study the Dutch and Flemish masters.
The other, perhaps more realistic, version has it that the young Cole became apprenticed to a ship painter. As he lived near the naval port of Portsmouth, this story has merit as it was a busy and important time for the British Navy, and ship re-fitting and restoration was a strong and vital business. Cole would probably have helped in the painting of figural and landscape decorations in the crew’s quarters. Again, the story is that he left this work to better himself in Holland.
While we can’t verify which of these stories is true, it is known that by the 1830s Cole was making a name for himself as an artist in Portsmouth. His wealthy patrons added to his art education by allowing him access to their collections of fine paintings. He was first known for his animal paintings, but tried out various subjects. Landscapes, especially with cows, eventually won out.
In 1838 he exhibited “The Farm Yard” at the prestigious Society of British Artists, and his career was definitely launched. He then took formal art lessons from the Scottish landscape artist, John Wilson (1744-1855). Cole then painted landscapes until his death, exhibiting at the Society over 200 times, as well as at other top venues.
George Cole became of one Britain’s premier Victorian landscape artists. An illustration of one of his works appears in Christopher Wood’s “Dictionary of British Victorian Artists,” and Cole is listed in Benezit’s “Dictionnaire des Peintres…” His paintings often make 5 figures at auction, with one going for nearly $70,000 several years ago. His son, George Vicat Cole, also made a name for himself as a landscape artist. Both father and son are listed in "A Dictionary of Victorian Landscape Artists," in which both have half-page illustrations of examples of their works.
If ever there was a quintessential English scene of country life, this is it, on what appears to be a perfect summer day with lovely blue skies and white billowing clouds and a herd of cows coming out from their barn and walking out toward the fields. It is as picturesque a scene as could be imagined, the type that made him successful in his own day as well as sought after in ours.
The cottage is centered as an integral part of the picture, with chickens out in front, of course. The two massive, ancient trees anchoring the scene provide a special beauty of their own. However, the cattle, as usual with this artist, are its most important feature. In the very back, with a less prominent role in the slow-moving parade of cattle, is the farmer. The artist used a rich and very satisfying, yet traditional color palate of greens and browns with accents of terracotta, blues, grays and ochre.
This idyllic view of traditional English country life was painted during his most prolific period. It also represents the skill and talents of an artist at his prime. It is clearly signed, “Geo. Cole,” and dated 1857 near the lower right corner.
It is housed in its original, wide Victorian elaborate wood and gesso frame. With its rows of interlocking tulips comprising a raised outer border and its rows of large, round beads to adorn the inner border, the frame is exceptionally decorative. I have had the frame professionally restored to bring it back to its original splendor. It is now in excellent condition.
I have had the painting professionally cleaned and restored so it is in ready-to hang condition.
This large painting measures 39 inches wide by 34 inches high, including the frame.
A Large and Impressive Mid-19th Century Landscape by George Cole
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