George Cooke (1793-1849)
George Cooke typified the ambitious
Born in eastern Maryland in 1793, Cooke taught himself to paint in the flat, linear manner often found in American art in the early decades of the nineteenth century. By the early 1820s he was executing portraits in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. His first formal training was with Charles Bird King (1785-1862), a respected portraitist and painter of Indians and humorous scenes of everyday life.
In 1826 Cooke and his wife, Maria Heath,
Cooke was consistent in his approach to art. Once he understood the aesthetic views of the old masters, he applied them to all his subjects, as for example his View of Athens from Carr's Hill (1845, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia, Athens).
His history paintings and landscapes notwithstanding, Cooke was first and foremost a portraitist. Although he did paint some well-known historical figures, for example, George Washington (ca. 1838, University of Alabama) as well as an array of southern politicians, Cooke made his living depicting local people, mainly in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. He traveled from place to place, often staying with friends while visiting nearby places to execute his portraits. These range from busts, to canvases about 24 by 36 inches, to full-length, life-size portraits. He attained great success with these portraits and by the late 1840s was one of the South's best-known painters.
Many American artists of the period, including Cooke, found outlets for their work in prints. His most notable series was done in 1832 for the British illustrator William James Bennett (ca. 1787-1844). These four views of American cities—Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; West Point, New York; and Charleston, South Carolina—typify the picturesque mode of American landscape painting that came immediately before the Hudson River school, the first native school of art. Rounding out his academic career, between 1834 and 1840 Cooke wrote five treatises on art in the Southern Literary Messenger, a journal based in Richmond, Virginia.
Curtis J. Evans, The Conquest of Labor: Daniel Pratt and Southern Industrialization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001).
Donald D. Keyes, George Cooke (1793-1849), exhibition catalog (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 1991).
Jessie Poesch, The Art of the Old South: Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture and the Products of Craftsmen, 1560-1860 (New York: Knopf, 1983).
Donald D. Keyes, Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art
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