The Cotman Collection | A garden house overlooking a river or pond. Called 'Tower and Pond'

John Sell Cotman

A garden house overlooking a river or pond. Called 'Tower and Pond'
c. 1809

Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: A garden house overlooking a river or pond. Called 'Tower and Pond'
Date: c. 1809
Object name: Drawing
Medium: Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Support: Heavyweight, cream, wove paper
Dimensions: Support: 244 mm x 193 mm
Reference: LEEAG.1945.0018.0008
Credit Line: Presented by Robert Hawthorn Kitson, 1945

This is a studio monochrome watercolour of a garden pavilion with a pyramidal tiled roof, built into a garden wall overlooking a river or pond with ducks in the foreground. There is a gate in the wall to the left, and steps leading down to the water at the right. The pavilion is backed by trees, and there is a glimpse of a church tower in the distance to the right. The drawing is inscribed lower left in graphite by Cotman; '1353 Cotman -'.

The drawing, it has to be said, has a rather naif quality. There is an uncertainty with regard to planes and angles throughout, but most especially in the principal building and in the alignment of the steps.

This quality of naivety occurs frequently amongst drawings made about 1809 for a series intended as a commercial library to be circulated amongst Cotman's pupils in Norwich. The number inscribed on the present example indicates that it did serve time in the drawing portfolios, although it also seems evident that this number was applied some time after the original series of six hundred drawings was advertised in 1809.

The 'naif' group seems worth a substantial study in its own right. Hill 2005 (p.157) speculates that it appears intended to affect similar qualities to the 'namby-pamby' (as one reviewer put it) poetry of Wordsworth. It also seems likely that this character was designed to appeal to the younger members amongst his clients. Few are so unaffected as the present example, even to the extent that it is hard to find any of the qualities of excellence that one might expect to find in a work by an artist such as Cotman

The composition is generally related to a series of compositions called 'Garden House on the Yare'. In chronological order there are examples exhibited at Agnew's 1996 no.26 as 'An Old Tea House on the Yare', sold at Bonhams, London 19 November 2013, no.13 as 'The old tea house on the banks of the River Yare', at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford (once owned by Sydney Kitson), another sold at Christie's 16 November 2006, no.61, and etched as a subject for 'Cotman's Miscellaneous Etchings' issued in 1811, an example of which may be found in the Leeds collection (LEEAG.1949.0009.0709). The cited examples are a consistent set of variations on the exactly the same theme. The present composition is an independent subject.

David Hill, June 2017