Extract from a letter to James Reeve, from Frederick Wedmore. 18. Sept 1874.
I hear that my picture framer admires my Cotman, and thinks that 30gs might be asked for it with a very good conscience, quite as much on its own merits as because it is a Cotman. He is accustomed to see good drawings and few besides.
I should have liked to have had some more conversation with you about Cotman. Meanwhile, for the present, I can only put in writing, in this note, what I call my main problem about Cotman: which is “what after all did Cotman do better than anybody else? What was his speciality?” - For an artist may indeed be clever, but hardly great, if he only does what other artists have done as well. Now I have seen some realistic things of Cotman, as realistic as any of Crome’s: I have seen some graceful things, as graceful as many of Turner’s: one or two sketchy, powerful things - from “Wold afloat,” for instance - which are as powerful as many sketches by David Cox. Cotman’s variety and versatility baffle me.
I see that he touched many other men; but his individual talent escapes definition, with me thus far. Can you give me an answer? I already find it so much easier to define Old Crome, even though his works present such contrasts as that between Mr Gunn’s lane and donkey cart picture and the Gurney’s Fish Market at Boulogne.