Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Thomas Sidney Cooper - Reposing on God's Acre
Price Realized (Set Currency) £171,650
signed and dated 'T Sidney Cooper RA/1875' (lower right) and stamped with initials 'TSC' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
48 1/8 x 64¼ in. (122.2 x 163.2 cm.)
London, Royal Academy, 1875, no. 246.
Reposing on God's Acre was one of three works exhibited by Cooper at the Royal Academy in 1875. Although they received almost no comment from the critics, Cooper noted in his memoirs 'To the Exhibition of 1875 I sent three paintings, of which Reposing on God's Acre, a scene in a churchyard with sheep, seemed to be the most generally noticed.' The setting for this composition is the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels, Harbledown, only a few hundred yards from Cooper's house. The unusual eighteenth century gravestones featured in the painting, with their scrolled tops carved with skulls, hour-glasses and angels, can still be found in the churchyard. Cooper's preparatory sketch of the tallest gravestone, provides evidence of his usual practise of working from careful studies executed 'from nature'. Although not located, it is safe to assume that he also made a sketch of Elizabeth Giles gravestone, which can be seen in the foreground of the painting. Some artistic licence is evident, both in the re-positioning of the stones and in the height of the ancient yew tree, which also survives.
The first owner, Charles Seeley, owned at least two other paintings by Cooper in addition to a joint work by Lee and Cooper. The painting was transferred to Hollins Hall, the former home of William and Anne Haworth, the children of a local cotton manufacturer, Thomas Haworth (1819-91), after the Hall was bequeathed to the Corporation of Accrington by the Haworths in 1920. It was opened as the Haworth Museum and Art Gallery a year later. A decision was made to sell a number of paintings from the collection in the late 1960s to raise funds, these were included in the Phillip's sale in June 1970. However, the Gallery still retains a number of oil paintings and watercolours by Cooper. Also in this sale is a work by John MacWhirter, The Path of the Hurricane, which was in the collection of the Corporation of Accrington.
God's Acre is an ancient Saxon term describing a churchyard burial ground or cemetery. It was a subject used by other artists including Emily Osborne and Benjamin Williams Leader, whose painting God's Acre, Evening (1894) shows a similar country churchyard. It was also popular in nineteenth century literature: one of Longfellow's poems entitled God's Acre describes it as 'the field and Acre of our God...where human harvests grow.' Sheep have traditionally been associated with the iconography of Christ and the Church. The notion of the pastoral flock tended by the Good Shepherd was popular amongst Victorian artists, the most resonant being William Holman Hunt's Hireling Shepherd (1852; Manchester, City Art Gallery). Whether or not Cooper intended any specific symbolism is uncertain but for a Victorian audience well-versed in the New Testament there would have undoubtedly have been some religious association. Three years earlier, Landseer had shown The Baptismal Font at the Royal Academy, which shows a flock of sheep gathered around a font carved with a head of the Man of Sorrows (Royal Collection). It has been suggested that this may have inspired the present work.
We are grateful to Kenneth Westwood for his help in the preparation of this catalogue entry.
at 6:00 AM