William Cook of Plymouth
Possibly: ‘The Last of the Wreck of the ‘Palpier'
William Cook was the son of Samuel Cook, an artist who produced landscapes in the South West of England in the mid-19th century. Cook junior, whose name always seems to be accompanied by the appendage ‘of Plymouth’ was indeed a native of that City: he lived at Belle Vue Cottage, Cobury Street, Plymouth.
Cook’s work is almost invariably ‘West Country’ in subject matter, normally Devon or Cornwall, although he did travel as far as the Isle of Wight and Suffolk in search of picturesque subject matter. Aside from location, the other distinctive aspect of Cook’s work is his familiar palette; he had an unvarying predilection for greens and purples of an almost pre-Raphaelite brightness. His was an idealised vision; he wasn’t above spicing up an already picturesque landscape with some fantastic but topographically inaccurate detail.
Cook did not exhibit much during his relatively short working span (he only produced work dated between 1871 and 1888), although in the late 1870s his work appeared at the Royal Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street on four occasions.
The watercolour we have for sale is a large, exhibition standard watercolour dating from this period (1878). It shows a pair of beachcombers on a spectacular but unidentified Cornish beach in the aftermath of a shipwreck. A piece of the wreck lies, as yet unclaimed on the beach, out of sight of the figures.
In 1879, Cook exhibited his last work at the Royal Society, a large watercolour (more than twice the price of his other exhibited works) entitled ‘The Last of the Wreck of the Palpier near The Lizard, Cornwall’, a title that could well describe our picture.
Exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street, 1879 £63
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