Colin Campbell Cooper biography

Beauvais Cathedral, c. 1915

45 x 33 inches  |  oil on canvas

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 8, 1856, Colin Campbell Cooper was the son of surgeon Dr. Colin Campbell Cooper and Emily William Cooper. The painter Cooper later recounted

"Whatever artistic incentive I may have had in my early days I probably received from my mother [an amateur copyist in watercolors]...My father...was a great lover of literature and music and encouraged me in every way possible in my wish to be an artist."

That encouragement was instrumental in the younger Cooper becoming a prominent American painter. He enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and studied under the great and then-controversial Thomas Eakins. Following his American studies, in 1886 he went to Europe, as did many young artists who could afford it. After making a tour of the Lowlands he studied in Paris at the Academies Julian, Decluse and Viti, and traveled throughout western Europe. He continued to travel often and widely for the remainder of his life.

In 1895 he was back in Philadelphia, teaching courses in watercolour at the Drexel Institute, and in 1897 he married Emma Lampert, also a painter. He taught at Drexel until 1898, when he moved to New York City. In 1902 Cooper began painting the new American building, the skyscraper, and thus documenting the modern city. He painted Cliffs of Manhattan and Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C. during this period.

Cooper continued to travel, and was on the S.S. Carpathia when it steamed to the rescue of passengers of the Titanic. In 1913 Cooper was in Ceylon, Burma, and for the first time, India. The Coopers together wintered in Southern California over 1915-1916 when they attended the Pacific-Panama and the Panama-California Expositions, in both of which Cooper exhibited.2

Cooper moved to Southern California in 1921, after the death of his wife Emma. In that year he became Dean of the Santa Barbara School for the Arts, and settled in Santa Barbara. He simultaneously kept a New York residence for many years, and thus maintained a presence on both coasts.3 He became a contributing member of the Santa Barbara community, remarried in 1927 (to Miss Marie Frehsee), and campaigned for an art museum to be placed in the old post office. He maintained a home in Santa Barbara until his death in 1937.

Videos

3:24 | Narrated by Frank Goss | Released for Stills from a Life's Cinema, 2011

3:51 | Narrated by Frank Goss | Released for COLIN CAMPBELL COOPER: Paper Sketches, 2009

2:45 | Narrated by Nathan Vonk

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AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Cooper's work is most often discussed in the context of a particular place or movement--American Impressionism within New York, or Impressionism within California are most frequent. Also referenced is work by Cooper that falls within the American Orientalist movement. He is also referred to as an American painter who, sophisticated and well-trained and -travelled, throughout his life documented his many travels. Actually Cooper was all of the above. While his ouevre has rarely, if ever, been examined in its entirety, both the quality and the scope of his work is tremendous.

Colin Campbell Cooper was intelligent, hard-working and talented--combined with his family's willingness to finance many aspects of his early career, Cooper had an edge over many of his contemporaries, and he made the most of it. He travelled, taught, painted and exhibited after he finished school. In 1902, when Cooper was in his mid-forties, he began the long series of skyscraper and modern urban landscape paintings for which he is currently best known.

Those paintings were appreciated in print within two years of starting the New York skyscraper paintings. In a 1904 Brush and Pencil review of the Minneapolis Art Exhibition, Cooper was praised for both his handling of the subject matter and his technical expertise: the Colin Campbell Cooper architectural collection [was] so much the center of attraction. His medium was a unique handling of watercolors on canvas, so cleverly done that the eight water-colors could scarcely be distinguished from the two oils...The Flatiron Building held the popular interest...[Two other paintings ] were additional proofs of this artist's skill in clothing the commonplace brick and mortar of the business block with rich, warm colors of their own.1

In 1920, with a bit of time to look back on, another even more laudatory quote came from The Century:

Cooper...is pre-eminently the artist who has shown the modern world that there is beauty, even poetry, in its towering structures of steel, as well as old cathedrals laid stone by stone. He has transformed the canyons of New York for their denizens...[he has] revealed the unique beauty behind the Flatiron building, the glorious vaulting across great rivers...

It seems clear that a great deal of Cooper's skill in architectural painting is due at least in part to his undestanding of the fundamental structure underlying the "skin" of a building, which Cooper could easily have extrapolated from his (then somewhat shocking) studies of anatomy with Thomas Eakins.

Certainly as was previously pointed out, Cooper is primarily known as an American Impressionist painter of the skyscraper. However, Cooper was not just an architectural painter. His portraits are lively and have a very personal quality which we can believe are an accurate reflection of the personalities he painted. His landscapes, even the quick gouache sketches with which he documented his travels, have a strong spirit of place. In the later part of his life Cooper wrote about his choices of subject matter, "While architectural subjects have always delighted me, yet I have never wanted to confine myself to one class of subject, which has always seemed to limit the joy of it--life is so full of interesting things." 3

While there are many appreciative mentions and listings of Cooper's work, to date there is no single publication of any length devoted to his work. There is a major Colin Campbell Cooper catalog upcoming in 2006. William Gerdts, the prominent American Impressionism scholar, and Deborah Epstein Solon, a curator known for her work on California painters are in the research stage now. That catalog will accompany a major Cooper retrospective exhibit. William Gerdts devoted substantial attention to Cooper in his book Impressionist New York. Deborah Epstein Solon is a curator who has worked with both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Laguna Art Museum curating some important California exhibits as well as writing major catalog essays.

 

 

AWARDS & AFFILIATIONS

1931  Honorable Mention, Sixth Annual Southern California Art Exhibition

1930  Honorable Mention, San Diego Fine Arts Gallery

1918-1919  Walter Lippincott Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

1918  Hudnut Prize, New York Color Club

1915  Silver Medal (watercolor), Panama-Pacific International Exposition

1915  Gold Medal (oil), Panama-Pacific International Exposition

1912  Elected Member, National Academy of Design

1911  Beal Prize, New York Water Color Club

1910  International Fine Arts Exposition, Buenos Aires

1910  Bronze Medal, State Fair, Dallas, TX

1908  Elected Associate, National Academy of Design

1905  Gold Medal, Art Club of Philadelphia

1904  Commemorative Medal as Member of the International Jury of Awards, St. Louis World's Fair

1904  Seinan Prize, Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts

1904  Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

1903  W.T. Evans Prize, American Water Color Society

1895  Bronze Medal, Atlanta Exposition

American Water Color Society, New York, NY
Art Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Bernard Club, New York, NY
International Jury of Awards at the St. Louis World's Fair, St. Louis, MO
Lotos Club, New York, NY
National Academy of Design, New York, NY
New York Society of Painters, New York, NY
New York Water Color Club, New York, NY
Philadelphia Water Color Club, Philadelphia, PA
Salamagundi Club, New York, NY

 

 

COLLECTIONS

Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
Cincinnati Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OH
City of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Crocker Museum, Sacramento, CA
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Irvine Museum, Irvine, CA
Luxembourg Collection, Paris, France
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
National Arts Club, New York, NY
New York Historical Society, New York, NY
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Sketch Club, Philadelphia, PA
Reading Public Museum, Reading, PA
St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, MO
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI
The White House, Washington, D.C.

 

 

THE PAINTED SKETCHES

Colin Campbell Cooper travelled widely, as previously mentioned, and we are fortunate to have an extensive record of those travels embodied in his painted sketches. Whether in the hills of his adopted home in Santa Barbara, or in the hills of Spain, Cooper sketched in pencil, and in gouache and oil. Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery was fortunate to acquire, with the estate, the bulk of these painted sketches. Each is approximately 5” x 7”. Together they form a chronicle of the development of Cooper’s skills as a painter.

 

 

CHRONOLOGY

1856  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Colin Campbell Cooper [Sr.] and Emily William Cooper
1879  Enrolled in Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; studied under Thomas Eakins
1886  Sketching trip to Holland & Belgium
1889  Studied at Academie Julian, France
1895-1898  Instructor in watercolor, Drexel Institute, Philadelphia
1896  Fire at Hazeltine Galleries, Philadelphia destroyed much of his work
1897  Married Emma E. Lampert (b. 1855)
1902  Began skyscraper paintings
1903  Painted Cliffs of Manhattan; studio in Gainsborough Studio Bldg at 222 Central Park South
1904  Louisiana Purchase Exposition juror, St. Louis
1906 (c.)  Painted Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C
1908 (c.)  Painted Flat Iron Building, casein
1908  Elected Associate, National Academy of Design
1912  Cooper is on the Carpathia when it rescues the Titanic survivors; he paints the rescue
1912  Elected Member, National Academy of Design
1913  First trip to India
1915  Wintered in California
1916  In San Diego at the Panama-California International Exposition
1920  Wife Emma died
1921  Moved to Santa Barbara
1921 (c.)  Became dean of painting at the Santa Barbara Community School of Arts
1926  Cooper's comedy spoof "Head Acres" produced at Pasadena Playhouse
1927  Married Miss Marie Frehsee
1927-1931  Painted Central Park oil
1929  Painted at Kimberly Crest, home of J.A. Kimberly (of Kimberly-Clark Paper) Redlands, CA
1937  Died in Santa Barbara, CA

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Ackerman, Gerald M. American Orientalists. Paris: ACR Edition, 1994.
2. Cooper, Colin Campbell. Letter to the Editor "Urges Old Postoffice as Art Museum," typescript reported as copied from Santa Barbara News-Press, Sunday ed., July 25, 1937, vol. LXXIV, no. 266, part 1, p. 3, col. 2. In artist files at the library of Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, Calif.
3. Gerdts, William. Impressionist New York. New York: Artabras/Abbeville Press, 1994.
4. Goolsby, Tina. "Colin Campbell Cooper: An American Impressionist with a Global Perspective." in Art & Antiques," Jan 1983.
5. Hansen, James M. An exhibition of paintings by Colin Campbell Cooper, May 3-16, 1981. Santa Barbara, Calif.: James M. Hansen, 1981.
6. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California. Third ed. Sacramento, Calif.: Crocker Art Museum, 2002.
7. Laguna Beach Art Museum. Southern California Artists 1890-1940. July 10, 1979 to August 28, 1979. Laguna Beach, Calif.: Laguna Beach Museum of Art, 1979.
8. Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media. Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998.
9. Price, Marshall N. "Colin Campbell Cooper: Impressions of New York," catalogue essay for the exhibition of the same name. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2002.
10. Santa Barbara Museum of Art Library. Colin Campbell Cooper artist files. Santa Barbara, Calif. 
11. Solon, Deborah Epstein. "In and Out of California: Travels of American Impressionists" catalogue essay for the exhibition of the same name. Laguna Beach, California: Laguna Art Museum, 2002.
12. Stern, Jean. American Impressionism, California School. Scottsdale, AZ: Fleischer Museum / FFCA Publishing, 1989.
13. Westphal, Ruth Lilly [editor]. Plein Air Painters of California: The North. Irvine, Calif: Westphal Publishing, 1986.

EXHIBITIONS
Major Solo-Exhibitions

In 2006, Drs. William Gerdts and Deborah Epstein Solon will present a major retrospective of the Cooper's work orginating at the Heckscher Museum and traveling to the Laguna Art Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by a substantial monographic catalog.

2010  "Lasting Impressions: Colin Campbell Cooper", Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara, CA

2009  "Colin Campbell Cooper: Paper Sketches", Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

2007  "Colin Campbell Cooper: Selections from the Back Room", Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

2006  "East Coast / West Coast and Beyond", Laguna Art Museum, Laguna, CA

2004  "Colin Campbell Cooper: An Extraordinary Life", Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

2003  "Studies, Drawings, and Small Works", Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

1938  Memorial Exhibition at the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

1934  Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

1927  Friday Morning Club, Los Angeles, CA

1927  Ainslie Galleries, Los Angeles, CA

1925  Stendahl Art Galleries, Los Angeles, CA

1924-1925  Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA

 

Major Group-Exhibitions

1939, 1941, 1944, 1951  Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA

1933  Ebell Salon of Art, Los Angeles, CA

1932  National Arts Club, New York, NY

1931  New York Society of Painters, New York, NY

1930, 1931, 1941  County National Bank and Trust, Santa Barbara, CA

1930  New York Society of Painters, New York, NY

1930  Art Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA

1927  Biltmore Galleries, Santa Barbara, CA

1924  Casa de la Guerra, Santa Barbara, CA

1916  Cleveland Museum of Art

1916  O'Brien Gallery, Chicago, IL

1915  Macbeth Gallery, New York, NY

1915  Arlington Art Galleries, New York, NY

1912  The Macdowell Club of New York, New York, NY

1907-10, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1919, 1922  City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

1907, 1909, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1920  Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.

1903  Klackner Galleries, New York, NY

1902  Galleries of the ART Club , New York, NY

1901-03, 1907, 1908, 1912  Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

1895, 1897, 1899, 1901-16, 1919, 1920  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
 

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