Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 While Colin Campbell Cooper was not the first to paint the New York City landscape he, along with Child Hassam, was one of the earliest artists to recognize and capture the aesthetic beauty and majesty of the burgeoning metropolis. Cooper gained acclaim for his images of the New York scene—cityscapes, skyscrapers, and bustling streets that celebrate the city’s dynamism and diversity. His paintings such as Cliffs of Manhattan, 1903 (City of Santa Barbara), Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C, 1906 (New-York Historical Society), and Chatham Square, express in paint what writer Louis Baury expounded in his article The Message of Manhattan, published in 1911:

The poetry and romance, the witchery, the lure of the present day life have crystallised [sic] themselves in these colossal monuments of masonry and steel. Their voice is heard over the roar of the factory fires, in nervous paintings of taxicabs, in the staccato rattle of the “L” roads, in the deep rhythmic thunder of the laboring machinery, and in the muffled roar of the crowds, which surge to and fro in the midst of it all.

Although he was trained in the rigid and methodical style of the Parisian academies, Cooper believed that the academic approach put “too much stress on correctness of drawing and not enough on correctness of expression.” It was probably during his second visit to Europe in the 1890s that Cooper became influenced by the freer working methods of the French Impressionists and the plein-air painting style. By the time he moved to New York in 1904, he was focusing primarily on urban scenes and cityscapes in the Impressionist style. In 1906, his city images garnered acclaim and were praised in the art periodical Brush and Pencil:

…whether it be Maiden Lane or Madison Square, the architectural canyons of lower New York or the Cathedral gates… that he [Cooper] paints, his every canvas has charm and an interest that inhere in the scene and awe wholly apart from the beauty that it attaches to a particular effect of atmosphere or season. Hence his specialty can never breed the monotony… each has its own wonderful details, its own grand suggestions, its own poetic message.

While paintings of skyscrapers and cityscapes brought him national recognition, Cooper also excelled in depicting city life with particular focus on refined architectural details. He used architecture as a backdrop to the diverse, urban life, which is exemplified not only in our painting Chatham Square, but also in the artist’s own words:

There is something in the sparkle of the thing, not only in the big masses of light and shade, but in the little details—which are like grace notes in a bar of music—that must be noted on the instant. There are infinite and subtle varieties of color in the windows of the buildings where at different angles, they take sky and cloud reflections.

The present painting depicts downtown Manhattan’s Chatham Square, which is today in the heart of Chinatown and marks the intersection of five streets: Bowery, Division, East Broadway, Catherine, and St. James Place. Here Cooper shows Chatham station, the junction between the 2nd and 3rd Avenue elevated trains. Inscribed on the painting’s lower left corner just after his signature, Cooper made the notation “sketch for” followed by something illegible. It might be surmised that the present watercolor is the basis for a larger work, possibly for the oil painting Chatham Square that was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1919.

Colin Campbell Cooper was born in Philadelphia and began his art training in 1879 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under renowned painter Thomas Eakins who encouraged his students to paint their world around them. An avid traveler all his life, Cooper went to the West as early as 1880, visiting Taos, New Mexico. By 1886 he was traveling throughout Europe visiting Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, and Holland. From 1895 to 1898, Cooper taught at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia where he gave lessons in watercolor painting, a difficult medium that he favored. Unfortunately, in 1896, many of his early works were destroyed in a fire at the Haseltine Gallery in Philadelphia.

In 1897, Cooper married Emma Lampert, an artist who had recently returned from her studies in Europe. The newlyweds soon returned to Paris where Cooper attended classes at the Académies Julian and Delécluse. The Coopers spent the next five years traveling around Europe, and lived for extended periods in Venice and England. They returned to Philadelphia around 1903, but soon moved to New York City where they remained until Emma’s death in 1920. Cooper relocated to Santa Barbara, California where he remarried in 1927 and was appointed dean of painting at the Santa Barbara Community College.

Cooper traveled extensively throughout his career and spent more then twenty years abroad painting not only in Europe, but also in India. He was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1908 and was made a full Academician in 1912. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Water Color Club, Lotos Club, Salmagundi Club, San Diego Art Gallery, and the California Art Club. He exhibited his work in prestigious venues, including the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Paris Salon, Boston Art Club, Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, where he won a gold medal for an oil painting and silver medal for a watercolor. Cooper’s artwork is housed in important public collections, including the Cincinnati Museum, Dallas Art Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Oakland Museum of Art, Luxembourg Museum, Paris; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.