The Cotman Collection | Recto: A Dutch Pikeman, after an engraving in Jacob de Gheyn's, Wapenhandelinghe, The Hague, 1607. Called 'A Spanish Halberdier';Verso: Landscape with Trees (probably by a pupil);

John Sell Cotman

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

Recto: A  Dutch Pikeman, after an engraving in Jacob de Gheyn's, Wapenhandelinghe, The Hague, 1607. Called 'A Spanish Halberdier';Verso: Landscape with Trees (probably by a pupil);
Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: Recto: A Dutch Pikeman, after an engraving in Jacob de Gheyn's, Wapenhandelinghe, The Hague, 1607. Called 'A Spanish Halberdier';
Verso: Landscape with Trees (probably by a pupil);
Date: c. 1825
Object name: Watercolour
Medium: Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Support: Buff, wove paper
Dimensions: Support: 114 mm x 267 mm
Reference: LEEAG.PA.1949.0009.0689
Credit Line: Bequeathed by Sydney Decimus Kitson, 1949

This is a sensitive yet demonstrative graphite and watercolour studio drawing of an ornately armoured pikeman, with plumed helmet, breastplate and skirt, sash, doublet and hose, ribbons at the knee and shoes, kid leather gloves and sword, holding his pike in the upright position in front. The drawing is inscribed, lower right in graphite, 'J. S. Cotman'. On the verso is a slight sketch of a landscape with trees, probably by a pupil.

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. Kitson bought three of this series together from the Norwich dealers Boswell's in 1930. All have drawings on the back, thought by Kitson to be pupils' work, although he did allow that the present example might be an 'original drawing'. The trees, however are so inept as to render that possibility remote.

A fourth example was added to the Leeds collection by the gift of Sydney Kitson's nephew, Robert Hawthorn Kitson in 1945 (LEEAG.1945.0018.0007).

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 extremely 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 large 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. As it is the first lot fetched 2 shillings, and the second failed to sell. It may be assumed that Cotman paid goodly 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. Immediately it will be noticed that it is not a straightforward copy. Cotman has taken the top half of one plate, but given it the legs of another. The result is a much more elegant stance. Closer inspection shows that he makes subtle changes everywhere, turning the head slightly, adjusting the shoulders, loosening the grip, to make the whole pose better balanced, lighter and more poised.

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).

It should be noted that Kitson's 'Cotmania' notebook, Volume 7 for 1931-2 p.36 records that the Cotman scholar Harold Isherwood Kay who worked as assistant keeper at the National Gallery, and had long been working towards a catalogue raisonnee of Cotman's works, appears to have expressed doubts about the attribution of these drawings to John Sell Cotman: 'Jan 9-12 1932. H Isherwood Kay & his wife came for the weekend - a great examination of Cotman drawings.. Thinks the soldiers & old woman Miles in 1825 - when he exhd such subjects.'

These are the only drawings of soldiers in the Kitson collection and the 'Old Woman' is almost certainly the drawing now at Bedford. Miles Edmund Cotman did indeed exhibit similar subjects in 1825. At the Norwich Society of Artists he showed no.199 'An Aquebusier of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth' and three subjects (nos.128,136 and 142) of 'A Bandoleer of the Reign of Elizabeth. At this stage, however, Miles Edmund was only fifteen years of age, and cannot have been capable of such accomplished work as this. A pencil study sold at Loveday's, London, Thursday, November 26, 1998, lot 52 might be a better candidate for identification with Miles Edmund.

David Hill, September 2017