Thursday, December 10, 2009

Child of Promise

Magnet # 113: Thomas Cooper Gotch's The Child Enthroned

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Victorian painter Thomas Cooper Gotch was born on this day in 1854 in Kettering. He came from a successful family of shoemakers and bankers. Unfortunately, when he was still young, his father went bankrupt and they were forced to move in with relatives until he was able to pay off his debts. For about three years, Thomas worked in the boot and shoe business with his father. However, both he and his older brother, John, would eventually pursue more artistic careers. John became a noted architect while Thomas, of course, went on to paint realistic, romantic art. He studied at several noteworthy art schools, meeting fellow artist Caroline Burland Yates at one of them. After a lengthy engagement, they married in 1881.

The image featured on this magnet is a detail of Gotch's most famous work, The Child Enthroned. It was painted fairly early in his career, after he had returned from traveling in Italy and discovering the beautiful art of romantic European symbolists. It wasn't popular in England, but when Gotch saw it, he decided to change his own style to incorporate its characteristics. For a time, the critics rejected him. But when this image hung in the Royal Academy in 1894's show, they could no longer do so. One newspaper even went so far as to call it the star of the show. His only child, Phyllis, modeled for the child in the image. It was not his first image portraying a girl-child, but its success propelled him to paint many more images of beautiful girl-children. He became one of the leading artists depicting these subjects. Oddly enough, one of his lifelong friends was artist Henry Scott Tuke, who often portrayed the boy-child in his work.

Gotch is known for rebelling from the Royal Academy of Art and refusing to follow its unified beliefs on art. He joined with other artists including John Singer Sargent to form the New England Art Club, an organization with less rigid artistic beliefs. He also moved to Newlyn, a coastal area where a more simple artistic community was thriving. There, he was very active in this community, both establishing a Newlyn Art Gallery as well as Newlyn Industrial Classes. Gotch also taught, served on committees, threw parties, and participated in dramatic performances. And, through all of this, he still found time to paint his masterpieces. He stayed there for over a decade until moving to London, where it was easier for artists to advance their careers. Eventually, he returned back to his beloved Newlyn. After World War I, when the popularity of more romantic images faded, Gotch turned to painting images such as landscapes and flower still lifes in watercolor. Although the Royal Academy never made him a member, he continued to exhibit there. When he was in London in 1931 for their painting day, he died suddenly.

Although Gotch is not one of the best known Victorian artists, he enjoyed a good deal of success in his day. In the past decade, there has been an increased amount of interest in his work, and both a biography and a 2001 exhibition have centered on Gotch. Kettering's Alfred East Gallery owns a large collection of his work, and some is on permanent display. I hope Gotch continues to become more popular. He helped bring new attributes to Victorian art, and the beautiful work he left behind should be available for everyone to admire.

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