- Museum number
Screen, Norwich Cathedral; interior of south transept, looking towards ornate tracery fitted into earlier round arch with two opened doorways, at left a gallery
Watercolour, over graphite
- Production date
Height: 359 millimetres
Width: 271 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- In December 1806, Cotman wrote to his patron Dawson Turner to inform him that he was taking a house in Norwich, 'for the purpose of opening a school for drawing and design' (Kitson, p. 99). For two weeks after Christmas, he held an exhibition of his work there, as much to attract pupils as clients for his work. Soon afterwards, in a concerted effort to establish himself with the Norwich public, he began to devote himself to the depiction of Norwich architecture. In the 1807 exhibition of the Norwich Society of Artists, founded in 1805 by John Crome and others, Cotman showed twenty works, including three of the city itself. In 1808, his tally rose to 67, but, though he was at pains to demonstrate the full range of his abilities, there were no watercolours of Norwich. There is no clear indication, then, why Cotman painted so many studies of the local architecture; had he intended to engrave them, there would have been more likelihood that he would have shown them in public to attract interest; the 'sketch' of Norwich Market Place shown in 1807 must have aroused such attention, so that when he showed another version in 1809, it was with the rubric, '(a Plate of this drawing is now in the hands of the Engraver)'. It was only later, in 1811, that 1902,0514.18 and another of the Norwich cathedral watercolours were exhibited in Norwich, to promote engravings which in fact seem never to have been made (see below).
Kitson estimated that there were 'at least ten' drawings of the cathedral interior (Kitson 1937, p. 107), of which 1902,0514.18 is 'the best of the whole series', with '[t]he assurance of his draughtsmanship ...matched by the sober perfection of its colouring'. The only view of the outside of the cathedral is the watercolour of St Luke's Chapel, now in Norwich. Andrew Hemingway has written of this work as a demonstration of the considerable interest in pre-gothic architecture, 'which was felt to express the sobriety and virility of Norman culture' ('Meaning in Cotman's Norfolk subjects', Art History, vol. 7 no. 1, March 1984, p. 71). The fact that Cotman also lavished such care on the interpolated late gothic screen does not negate this argument; it might be said to suggest, however, that Cotman was not prone to take sides in this debate, but made the most of the full range of styles the cathedral had to offer, appreciating not only its ornate gothic, but also the less widely estimated romanesque.
The watercolour shows a screen which divides the south transept from the ambulatory. The choice of this motif, with ornate tracery fitted into a solid, round Norman arch, must indicate, if nothing else, an audience for whom such vivid contrast of styles would be regarded with interest, not aversion. A slightly smaller version, with different colouring, is in the Bacon collection; the central motif is the same size, and only the setting is reduced, suggesting one may have been traced from the other ('The Golden Age of Watercolours; the Hickman Bacon Collection', Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2001, cat. 46). A further version in a private collection is considered 'more likely a successful copy' by Rajnai.
Either the BM or the Bacon version was exhibited in Norwich in 1811 as '(124) A Screen - south transept of Norwich Cathedral', under the general heading 'intended for his Miscellaneous Etchings and his Illustrations of Blomefield's Norfolk', although this subject was not in fact etched.
For complete bibliographic references for curatorial comments on John Sell Cotman drawings in the British Museum collection see 1902,0514.7.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1811 Norwich, Norwich Society of Artists, no.124 [? or the Bacon version]
1888 Jul, Norwich Art Circle, 9th Exhibition, John Sell Cotman, no.62
1888 Nov, Burlington Fine Arts Club, no.30
1892 London, Royal Academy, Winter exhibition of Old Masters, no.100
1961 Manchester, Whitworth AG, Norwich School: Loan exhibition, no. 52
1982 Aug-Oct, London, V&A, 'Cotman', no. 63
1982 Nov-Dec, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, Cotman, no. 63
1982/3 Dec-Jan, Bristol Art Gallery, 'Cotman', no. 63
1983 Mar-May, Manchester, Whitworth AG, 'Most Beautiful Art of England', no. 41
1985 BM, British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860, no.124
2005 Mar-Jul, Norwich, Castle MAG, Cotman: Reeve Collection
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number