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John Sell Cotman

Born: Norwich, 16 May 1782
Died: London, 24 July 1842
Nationality: English

son of Edmund Cotman, a hairdresser and haberdasher


at Dr Monro’s informal “Academy”; member of Thomas Girtin’s sketching society (1799)


1798 – moves to London as assistant to publisher Rudolph Ackermann

1800 – first Royal Academy (RA) exhibition; wins large silver palette from Society of Arts

1806 – last RA exhibition; moves to Norwich and establishes School for Drawing and Design

1810 – elected vice-president of Norwich Society of Artists; exhibits in London at Associated Artists in Water-Colours and at British Institution

1811 – president of Norwich Society of Artists (again in 1833); exhibits with Associated Artists in Water-Colours

1812 – moves to Yarmouth to work on over 400 etched plates for Architectural Antiquities of Norfolk (1812-18)

1817 – first of three tours of Normandy in preparation for the publication Architectural Antiquities of Normandy (1822)

1823 – opens drawing school in Norwich

1825 – elected member of the Old Water-Colour Society

1834 – drawing master at King’s College School, London

1838 – exhibits with the Society of British Artists

1841 – last sketching trip tour of Norfolk
Three of Cotman’s children became artists:  Anne Cotman, Miles Demund Cotman and John Joseph Cotman


Wales (1800, 1802, 1805); Yorkshire (1803); Normandy (1817, 1818, 1820)

Commissions from: 

Sir Henry Englefield, Dawson Turner



Laurence Binyon comments on Cotman’s carrier choice:

“Cotman’s return to Norwich [from London] in 1806 was, it is generally agreed, a great mistake. He thought he could support himself by portraiture, yet have leisure for oil-painting of landscape. But he chose a time when Norwich had lost its prosperity and there was little demand for art of any kind. It seems that the painters were almost more numerous than their clients. These hopes soon faded, Cotman found a steady patron in Dawson Turner, who did not however appreciate his rarer gifts and employed him solely as a draftsman and etcher of the antiquarian subject that interested himself. Had Cotman remained in London and faced a struggle with real poverty…it is just possible that he might in the end have found what he needed, a patron such as Blake found in Mr. Butts, a patron who believed in him….He was doomed to become what he had always dreaded to become, a drawing-master.”

Laurence Binyon, “The Art of John Sell Cotman,” The Burlington Magazine for Conoisseurs, vol. 81, no. 472 (July 1942): 160.