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John Sell Cotman, 1782–1842

In Rokeby Park

1800 to 1810
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor and graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 13 × 9 inches (33 × 22.9 cm)

Inscribed on verso in graphite, lower right: "15 x 19 1/[...]"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
landscape | parks (grounds) | trees
Associated Places:
Rokeby | United Kingdom
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
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IIIF Manifest:

Watercolors from Cotman’s stay in Yorkshire and County Durham in the summer of 1805 have been widely considered not only the high point of his work as a watercolorist but also some of the most strikingly original watercolors of the British School. Indeed, Laurence Binyon described them as “the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever painted in Europe” (Binyon, 1931, p. 132). Cotman first visited Yorkshire in the summer of 1803, traveling north with an introduction to the Cholmeley family at Brandsby Hall, near York. Cotman became a great favorite of the Cholmeleys and returned to Brandsby the following two summers. After his visit there in July 1805, he proceeded to Rokeby Park, the home of John Morritt, an antiquarian and book collector, whose wife received drawing lessons from Cotman. He spent six weeks sketching in the area.
Although the publication in 1813 of Sir Walter Scott’s poem about the English Civil War, titled Rokeby, drew international attention to the area between the rivers Tees and Greta, at the time of Cotman’s visit, it was not yet an object of picturesque tourism. In a letter to Dawson Turner of 30 November 1805, Cotman wrote that his “chief study has been colouring from Nature, many of which [studies] are close copies of that fickle Dame, consequently valuable on that account” (Hill, 2005, p. 145). Whether “In Rokeby Park” is one of these studies painted from nature has been the subject of much debate. David Hill, in his recent detailed study of Cotman’s work in the north, suggests that it most likely is (Hill, 2005, pp. 125–26). Perhaps because they were lacking in conventionally picturesque qualities, “In Rokeby Park” and its companion drawings from the visit to Rokeby did not find immediate purchasers. The watercolor remained in the artist’s possession for years, until it was acquired by Francis Gibson, a banker, who became Cotman’s patron in his later years.
Scott Wilcox

Baskett, John, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson, Brian Allen, and William Reese. Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art. New Haven : Yale Center for British Art , 2007, cat. no. 102

John Sell Cotman (Whitworth Art Gallery, - ) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Great Age of British Watercolors c.1750 - 1880 (National Gallery of Art, 1993-05-02 - 1993-07-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Great Age of British Watercolors c.1750 - 1880 (Royal Academy of Arts, 1993-01-15 - 1993-07-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Sell Cotman (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983-08-01 - ) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Sell Cotman (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, - 1983-02-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Baskett, English drawings and watercolors, 1550-1850, in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon , The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1972, p. 87, No. 122, NC228 B37+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 289, no. 102, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Laurence Binyon, Landscape in English art and poetry, Cobden-Sanderson, London, 1931, p. 132, NX543 B56 1930 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Sell Cotman, John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842, Herbert Press, London, 1982, pp. 67, 84-85, no. 35, no. 35, NJ18 C81 R35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

David Hill, Cotman in the north, watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, p, 125, pl. 130, NJ18 C81 H55 2005+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Norwich Castle Museum, John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842, early drawings (1798-1812) in Norwich Castle Museum , Norwich, Eng, 1979, p. 61, NJ18 C81 N66 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 102, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christiana Payne, Silent Witnesses Trees in British Art, 1760-1870, Sansom & Co., Bristol, p. 115, fig. 54, NX650.T74 P39 2017 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Miklos Rajnai, John Sell Cotman 1782-1842, a touring exhibition arranged by the Arts Council of Great Britain... , Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1982, pp. 67, 84-5, no. 35, no. 35, NJ18 C81 R352 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Lindsay Rothwell, Paul Mellon's legacy : an American's passion for British art : Sackler Wing of Galleries, 20 October 2007 - 27 January 2008 : an introduction to the exhibition for teachers and students., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 2007, pp. 12-13, 25, no. 14, V 2038 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Simon Schama, The Yale Centre for British Art, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, , May 20, 1977, p. 620, TLS Historical Archive [ORBIS]

Christopher White, English landscape, 1630-1850, drawings, prints & books from the Paul Mellon Collection , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, pp. 97-98, no. 174, pl. CXLVI, NC228 W45 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Andrew Wilton, The great age of British watercolours, 1750-1880, Prestel, Munich London, 1993, p. 301, cat. no. 45, Pl. 176, ND1928 W57 1993 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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