Thomas Sidney Cooper

(1803 - 1902)

The very name Thomas Sidney Cooper is synonymous with paintings of sheep and cattle. Born 26th September 1803 in Canterbury, Cooper was encouraged in his painting by his namesake Abraham Cooper (1787-1868) who numbered William Barraud and John Frederick Herring Snr. (1795-1865) amongst his pupils. With the further encouragement of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Cooper moved from Canterbury to London where he entered the Royal Academy Schools. Having returned to Canterbury where he taught and was able to sell a number of his works, Cooper married and moved to Brussels in 1827 to continue teaching. Here he met and befriended the renowned animal painter Eugene Verboeckhoven (1798-1881) who was to have a profound influence on Cooper’s work. While working in Brussels, Cooper studied 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, the works of Albert Cuyps, Paulus Potter and their contemporaries whose naturalistic renditions of the Low Countries landscape and animals were to influence Cooper’s views of Kentish meadows and pastures.

In 1831 Cooper returned to St John’s Wood, London, first exhibiting in 1833 at the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street and also at the Royal Academy, the first year of what was to become a continuous and unrivalled run of Royal Academy exhibits until 1902, the year of his death.

Sheep and cattle in landscapes and meadows primarily set in his native county of Kent interspersed with the results of occasional forays to North Wales, Cumberland, Scotland and the Thames form the vast majority of Cooper’s subject matter. He collaborated on a number of works, much like his friend Verboeckhoven, particularly with Frederick Richard Lee (1798-1879), a highly regarded painter of landscapes, in which Cooper painted the animals during the period 1848-1856, and less frequently with Thomas Creswick (1811-1869). The 1860’s and 1870’s saw Cooper at the height of his powers, he was elected Royal Academician in 1867 and the following decade saw him receive numerous lucrative commissions while his exhibited works were constantly praised by reviewers in the Art Journal and the Magazine of Art.

In 1882 Cooper founded the Sidney Cooper Art Gallery in Canterbury, a reflection of his considerable wealth and popularity. Cooper continued to paint and exhibit at the Royal Academy until his death in 1902, the later years understandably seeing a decline in the quality of his work. Cooper died in his native city of Canterbury on 7th February 1902, his reputation as one of the leading animal painters of the 19th century assured.

His works can be found in museums in: Birmingham City Art Gallery; Blackburn City Art Gallery; Cardiff, National Gallery of Wales; Glasgow City Art Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery; Leicester City Art Gallery; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; London, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wallace Collection and the National Gallery.

Bibliography: E. Benezit “Dictionnaire des Peintres”
Christopher Wood “Dictionary of Victorian Painters”