The Cotman Collection

John Sell Cotman
Leeds Art Gallery


Welcome to the catalogue and archive of John Sell Cotman at Leeds Art Gallery. Cotman is one of Britain’s most important artists and known worldwide for his watercolours and drawings. Leeds has one of the best collections of his work, including some of his finest watercolours and an unrivalled number of his sketchbook drawings.

The sketches were collected by Leeds architect Sydney D Kitson and bequeathed by him to Leeds. Kitson devoted his retirement to researching Cotman’s life and work and in 1937 published ‘The Life of John Sell Cotman’. Kitson also gave Leeds his archive of notebooks, correspondence and research materials. He called it ‘Cotmania’.

Thanks to a grant from The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, Leeds has for the first time been able to fully catalogue all this material and publish it on this website. The majority of the material – both works and documents – has never been reproduced before, and is consequently little known or studied. The grant enabled Leeds to commission:

  • A comprehensive catalogue by Emeritus Professor David Hill of The University of Leeds, covering the entire Leeds collection of Cotman sketches and watercolours, together with one oil painting.

  • A new detailed catalogue of the Kitson Archive of Cotman research materials and documentation.

  • The design and development of this website by Theodore Wilkins, former Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings at Leeds Art Gallery, together with ultra-high quality digitization of every work by Cotman and every significant archive document.

  • An extensive conservation programme, including preservation of Kitson's original mounting, new mounts for watercolours, and modern standards of storage and preservation for all Cotman's artworks and archive.

Many others have contributed to the development of this site. The project leaders would like to thank Fred Barsby who edited much of the text, checked measurements, and scanned images, Callan Broughton who prepared many of the images for publication, Cotman scholars Jeremy Yates and Timothy Wilcox, who shared their knowledge of particular works. In addition a considerable team of volunteers helped with the hugely-time consuming support work for the project. We thank Keith Batchelor, Linda Bower, John Dix, Jodie Evans, Claire Firth, Ghada Habib, Liz Kay, Jordan Keighley, Karen Mackie, Kevin Marples, Clare Nadal, Victoria Ng, Felicia Readom, Brian Richardson, Marnie Robins, Ingram Roeder, Barbara Romańska, Laura D'Silva and Zhongli Zhao.

The principal development and catalogue work was begun in 2013 and was completed at the end of 2017.

As of 16 January 2018 the cataloguing of 812 drawings and watercolours, plus one oil painting, is complete and online. A further 117 works are listed, mostly prints, and further funds are being sought to commission systematic cataloguing of Cotman's etchings and engravings. Of the 930 works of art, 644 have high quality images available. Work continues on the remainder. All of Sydney Kitson's 'Cotmania' albums are scanned and online with transcriptions, and are fully searchable. The site also includes fully searchable transcripts of letters drawn from Kitson's volumes of the Cotman correspondence, besides several other items from the Kitson archive.

New users may refer to the 'Research Guide' and 'Explore the Kitson Archive' sections available by clicking top right of this screen. Alternatively to search for items containing specific words or phrases click on 'search' on the home page, and enter terms directly in the search box. In addition, there is a geographic search tool (click on placemark symbol, top right of the 'search' page). This opens a fully zoomable map to see the exact viewpoints of locations of Cotman subjects in the collection, where they can be positively identified.

Please revisit to see further developments. This represents but the beginning of a resource that we hope will continually grow and develop with further contributions.