The Cotman Collection | A Dutch Pikeman after an etching in Jacob de Gheyn's, 'Wapenhandelinghe', published in The Hague, 1607. Called 'Spanish Halbardier'.

John Sell Cotman

A Dutch Pikeman after an etching in Jacob de Gheyn's, 'Wapenhandelinghe', published in The Hague, 1607. Called 'Spanish Halbardier'.
c. 1825

A Dutch Pikeman after an etching in Jacob de Gheyn's, 'Wapenhandelinghe', published in The Hague, 1607. Called 'Spanish Halbardier'.
Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: A Dutch Pikeman after an etching in Jacob de Gheyn's, 'Wapenhandelinghe', published in The Hague, 1607. Called 'Spanish Halbardier'.
Date: c. 1825
Object name: Watercolour
Medium: Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Support: White wove paper, with a reticulated grain
Dimensions: Support: 315 mm x 249 mm
Reference: LEEAG.PA.1945.0018.0007
Credit Line: Presented by Robert Hawthorn Kitson, 1945

This is a demonstratively careful graphite and watercolour studio watercolour of an ornately-costumed pikeman. He wears a plumed helmet, body armour and apron, scarlet hose and breeches, white stockings and black shoes decorated with scarlet ribbon at the knee and buckle. He stands facing three quarters away right, with his right arm extended to hold the pike vertically. He wears a maroon sash and a sword sheath hangs from his left waist. The sheet is signed lower right 'J S Cotman'.

This is one of a group of related drawings of soldiers performing drill exercises, all copied from Jacob de Gheyn's, 'Wapenhandelinghe', published in The Hague in 1607. Sydney Kitson bought three of this series (LEEAG.1949.0009.0689, 690, 693) together from the Norwich dealers Boswell's in 1930.

The present example was owned by Sydney Kitson's nephew, Robert Hawthorn Kitson and given by him to the Leeds collection in 1945.

Kitson called the soldiers Spanish, but the source shows them actually to be Dutch, at war with the Spanish at this time. Spanish styles influenced many countries in the early seventeenth century, but the drill routines demonstrated in the Wapenhandelinghe established the Dutch army at this time as the most disciplined in Europe, and the practices were adopted widely.

The careful, demonstrative style and beautiful application of the paint is typical of the work that Cotman made around the time (late 1823) of his removal from Yarmouth to Norwich, to establish a new and grand studio and drawing school in a house in the Bishop's Plain. In the following years he invested heavily in the appurtenances of such a studio, including books, prints, furniture and even armour. As a result he became over-extended and struggled financially for the next ten years, and many of his treasures were sold by Spelman's in a house sale when he moved to London to take up his position as Master of Drawing at King's College School in 1834.

A volume containing transcripts of the catalogues of Cotman's sales is in the Kitson archive at Leeds Art Gallery. Frustratingly the 'Wapenhandelinghe' does not appear by name in the catalogue of that sale, but the first day's sale on 10 September 1834 included two lots of prints 'Mounted on drawing paper, and half-bound in volumes', nos. 72 'Swiss, German and French costumes, 50 coloured plates' and 73 'A collection of Swiss costumes, beautifully finished. Military costumes and antique dresses, 43 plates' that might have contained the originals of Cotman's studies. The first lot fetched 2 shillings, and the second failed to sell. It may be assumed that Cotman paid significant sums to acquire them. Original coloured Wapenhandelinghe prints are now valuable. A fine coloured copy was recently shown at the Amsterdam Antiquarian Book Fair on sale for E90,000.

It is possible to compare Cotman's drawing with the original etching. Cotman's is a careful copy, but he very subtly manages to give the figure more poise and grace. De Gheyn himself hand coloured some of the early volumes, and these are very fine and extremely rare. Cotman's colouring does not follow any colour scheme of any print that readily presents itself today, and it may be that the colouring here was of his own devising.

In 1835 Cotman found an entertaining use for another drawing in this series, by mounting it as a cardboard cut-out and presenting it (with a similarly presented drawing of a Knight on Horseback) to Hannah Maw, daughter of his London patron John Hornby Maw, on the occasion of her fifth birthday. Joll 2002, p.74 cites De Gheyn's book and also quotes from Hannah's memoir of the event which was attended by a constellation of artists including David Cox, William Hunt, Peter de Wint and J M W Turner. The presentation drawings were both owned by Sydney Kitson and after his death were retained by the family and given by the Misses Kitson in 1973 to the Bedford, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (Joll, 2002, pp.74-5; P.704 and P.697, where repr. colour).

Kitson also owned a female figure subject of called 'Old Woman with Hats', painted in a very similar style, and of a similar date, which descended by the same route to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (Joll, 2002, p.75, P.702, where repr. colour).

David Hill, September 2017