The Cotman Collection | A small boat on a river bank; called an 'Eel Drogue'

John Sell Cotman

A small boat on a river bank
c. 1818

A small boat on a river bank; called an 'Eel Drogue'
Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: A small boat on a river bank; called an 'Eel Drogue'
Date: c. 1818
Object name: Drawing
Medium: Graphite on wove paper
Support: Off-white, wove paper, watermarked 'TBS 18...', from a sketchbook with a green fore-edge.
Dimensions: Sight size: 75 mm x 110 mm
Mount: 196 mm x 267 mm
Reference: LEEAG.1949.0009.0211
Credit Line: Bequeathed by Sydney Decimus Kitson, 1949

This is a careful graphite study of a small, flat-bottomed boat, oddly truncated like a rowing-boat that has been sawn in half. It appears full of holes, so could presumably readily fill with water and drain. An inscription on the mount by an unidentified hand identifies the boat as an 'Eel drogue'. The vessel is surrounded with other paraphernalia, presumably of the eel-catching trade. Kitson 1926 notes an erased inscription on the verso: '/21 Sketch for ... Boat'.

The style is mature, but still careful and self-conscious. A date of before 1820 might be preferred, and there is some possibility that this might be an observation in Normandy.

It has not been previously noticed that similar vessels figure in an important watercolour of St Benet's Abbey dated 1831 at the Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM: 1947.217.211 : F). There is a close correspondence between that seen here at the lower right, and one in the right foreground of the watercolour.

LEEAG.1949.0009.0212a is likewise on paper with a green fore-edge. The present sheet appears to be the full width of the original, but has been trimmed at the bottom. The other appears to be the full height, but has been trimmed at the left, so we might infer an original page size of 80 x 110 mm (3 3/8 x 4 3/8 ins).

This drawing is one of eleven mounted on one large sheet (B) as acquired by Sydney Kitson in 1926. The group consisted mostly of boats or windmills, and quite miscellanous, although most of the individual sheets show some sign of having come from sketchbooks with green or yellow fore-edges. Sometime between 1926 and 1937, Kitson mounted them all individually and gave them new numbers for the catalogue drawn up in the latter year. The drawings were dispersed in the 1937 numeration, thus obscuring the previous sheet relationship of the drawings.

David Hill, September 2017