Thomas Sidney Cooper RA (1803-1902)

T. Sidney Cooper

Thomas Sidney Cooper dedicated his extremely long life to painting cows and sheep. His life was a hard one - he was born in Canterbury, and when he was five years old, his father deserted the family. In 1815 he began to learn coach-painting, and later scene painting. However, he spent his spare time sketching from nature, and he was able to win entry to the RA Schools. However, poverty compelled him to return to coach-painting. In this job he managed to scrape together enough money to go to the Continent, but there he had to work painting signs to survive. In 1831 he returned to England, and living in London, would go to Smithfield Market to sketch cattle. Then a picture of his was spotted and bought by Robert Vernon, and Cooper had found a patron. Soon, his work began to be more appreciated, (as the popularity of cows increased?!). Indeed, he often was asked to draw cows in other artist's landscapes - the most well known example is in the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, where the cows are by Cooper, the landscape by Creswick, and the figures by W. P. Frith. Cooper became ARA in 1845 and RA in 1867.

In his later years, Cooper cows were so popular that copies were made. Cooper invited owners of his pictures to send them in to him for authentification as the genuine article. More than 500 were sent back to him, of which he claimed only 10 per cent as by himself, and charged a fee of 5 guineas apiece regardless. Among Cooper's followers may be mentioned J. C. Morris, who also painted cows, and exhibited at the RA and other major venues in the 1850s.

Today, Cooper's pictures seem not to be considered glamorous enough to be on the walls of many of the big galleries. However, they may be readily seen at smaller galleries, for example those at Bath, Eastbourne, Leicester and Salford. At his home town of Canterbury are a whole group of his works on display.

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