The Cotman Collection | Lake at Trentham Park, Staffordshire. Called Entrance to a Park (Costessey near Norwich)

John Sell Cotman

Lake at Trentham Park, Staffordshire. Called Entrance to a Park (Costessey near Norwich)
c. 1806

Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: Lake at Trentham Park, Staffordshire. Called Entrance to a Park (Costessey near Norwich)
Date: c. 1806
Object name: Drawing
Medium: Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
Support: White, laid paper
Dimensions: Support: 156 mm x 316 mm
Reference: LEEAG.PA.1952.0005.0050
Credit Line: Bequeathed by Agnes and Norman Lupton, 1952

This is a fine monochrome watercolour study of a parkland landscape looking across rough ground in the foreground, to part of a lake in the right mid-distance, with a string of cattle leading from the lake to a meadow in the left mid-distance. The scene is backed by a frieze of trees with a wall and a small pavilion under pine trees at the right.

The subject has long been suggested to be Costessey Park near Norwich, but Miklos Rajnai (V&A 1982, no.55) pointed out that there was no evidence for that identification. The true identification can now be established as Trentham Park, Staffordshire, by comparison with a drawing of exactly the same composition at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA (B1981.25.1995), inscribed 'Lake at Trentham'. Rajnai (V&A 1982) notes a pencil version of the same composition at the V&A (E.278-1954).

To those references may be added a small pencil sketch in the Leeds collection (LEEAG.1949.0009.0414) which is here newly identified as a drawing of the house at Trentham Park. In addition to that there are two pencil studies of trees at the Norwich Castle Museum ((NWHCM : L1967.9.60 and NWHCM : 1951.235.558), which appear drawn in a similar spirit to the present study, and which might also have been made at Trentham.

Cotman visited Trentham Park, the home of the Marquess of Stafford, in 1806. Miklos Rajnai (NCM 1979, under no.39) speculates that he was probably introduced by Stafford's sister, Lady Carlisle of Castle Howard, Yorkshire. Cotman had worked there the previous summer in 1805. Cotman painted the interior of 'Trentham Church' (Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : 1947.217.133) and Miklos Rajnai (NCM 1979, no.39) identified no other visual evidence of Cotman's visit.

We hear of Cotman's impending journey in a letter to him by Theresa Cholmeley written on 14 July 1806, Cotman evidently had high hopes of the invitation. Stafford was one of the wealthiest collectors in the country, and Mrs Cholmeley cautions him not to let his optimism run away with him. The exchange is quote by Hill 2005, p.153.

We know from an 1824 source (cf NCM 1979 under no 67, n.8) that the Staffords had a Cotman watercolour of Croyland Abbey which hung in the sitting room at Trentham. This might well be the very large and fine watercolour now at the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, which is probably the subject exhibited at the RA in 1805 no.509, and might well have been bought from there by Stafford.

Kitson 1937 says that Cotman's place was taken later in the summer by Peter de Wint who exhibited at the RA in 1807 no.26 a View of Trentham Hall, The Seat of the Marquess of Stafford.' Constable also painted Trentham in a panoramic composition usually dated c.1801 at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent. Constable's connection with Trentham wants investigation for another composition from a different point of view at the Yale Center for British Art has been given to him and dated c.1801 but is not by him at all.

It may be presumed that the present subject was executed at the time of Cotman's visit to Trentham in 1806 or shortly thereafter. There are some stylistic affinities with Yorkshire subjects of c.1805-6, but this is more reductive and essentialising in its approach. Leeds has another fine monochrome watercolour from this period, 'Cows standing in shallow water below the bridge at Bridgnorth' (LEEAG.1952.0005.0049), also from the Lupton collection..

Sydney Kitson's 'Cotmania' notebook, (Volume 7, p.31, preserved in the Kitson archive at Leeds Art Gallery records that this watercolour was discovered in unsuspected circumstances: On 23 November 1931: 'We [Norman Lupton and himself] called on H Orfeur in Bournemouth. The Cotman sepia he found behind a photograph in an old frame is a beauty - c.1804-6, 6 1/4 x 12 1/4. Cows, water, trees & what looks like the lodge to a park - (?) Costessy [near Norwich]. Great refinement - smaller in scale & handling than most JSCs'. Three years earlier Herbert Orfeur had sold Kitson hundreds of small pencil sketches mounted on sheets (a substantial proportion of those given by Kitson to Leeds) and he appears to have harboured hopes of acquiring this monochrome. It was not to be, however, and Kitson had to be content with reproducing the drawing in his Life of Cotman (1937, fig.28) credited to the collection of Herbert Orfeur. Sometime after Kitson's death, his companion on the day, Norman Lupton, managed to acquire the drawing, and so it eventually joined the bulk of Kitson's collection at Leeds when Lupton, with his sister Agnes, gifted their collection to the gallery in 1952.

David Hill, November 2017