I brightened a few grey days recently reviewing the contents of a portfolio of drawings that I acquired in 2017. I bought it for a Cotman watercolour that it contained, but sixteen other pencil drawings, seven watercolours and one photograph bundled with it have proved almost as equally engaging at the Cotman, in most cases of considerable artistic merit, besides almost always opening onto an interesting area of enquiry.
It was bought as a lot of Sundry Drawings and Watercolours, offered at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2017, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.
At first sight it appeared to consist of a complete miscellany of subjects, mostly quite obscure, by a variety of hands, hardly any of them identified. There seemed little pattern or logic to the miscellany; a fairly random accumulation of provincial or amateur work of the earlier 1800s. Nicely representative, except for the Cotman, of the contents of any drawings portfolio in a country house in the 1830s or 1840s.
More systematic consideration, however, has thrown up two separate contexts for the drawings. It is not impossible that the two contexts are somehow related, but as yet that remains unresolved. As we shall see, however, there is a very strong topographical connection between many of the subjects, which leads to the positive identification of some of the artists, and a strong context for the remainder.
We will start with the Cotman, since that was the principal eye-catcher in the lot. As we shall discover, his influence makes itself felt elsewhere in the portfolio, even though no direct connection, other than to one work, can be established.