WARTS AND ALL – The Portrait Miniatures of Samuel Cooper (1609-1672), until 7th December, Philip Mould & Company
In his lifetime Cooper was described as both the ‘the prince of limners’ and ‘Vandyck in little’. This remarkable loan exhibition fully allows us to celebrate the life and output of this highly skilled painter of miniatures.
His career spanned nearly fifty years at a time when England was in political upheaval, working for the court of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and then Charles II. His work was eagerly sought after and not all were successful in becoming sitters. Samuel Pepys wrote on 2nd January 1661/2 “I went forth by appointment to meet with Mr. Grant, who promised to bring me acquainted with Cooper, the great limner in little, but they deceived me. It was not until 16th July, 1668 that he was able to write “Thence to Cooper’s and saw his advance on my wife’s picture which will indeed be very fine.”
As the exhibition’s curator, Emma Rutherford, says “it is impossible to imagine charting this significant period of British history without these memorable private images.” What a variety there is. Among them is a c1635 miniature of Van Dyck’s mistress, Margaret Lemon, in cavalier dress (male), one of Cromwell’s wife and daughter and one of Charles II’s illegitimate son James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch 1649-83. Cooper’s sketches are very rare, with only a handful surviving, but one from 1655 of the young Thomas Alcock is on display.
The Duke of Buccleuch has loaned the famous portrait of Oliver Cromwell and the exhibition sets out to confirm that Cooper was the recipient of Cromwell’s wish to be depicted “warts and all”. Nearby, will be Lely’s identical portrait as well as Cromwell’s death mask.
This is the first show dedicated to Samuel Cooper since 1974 and its significance is clearly underlined by the many lenders, which in addition to the aforementioned includes, Her Majesty the Queen, Castle Howard, Burghley House, Warwick Castle , The Ashmolean Museum, The Fitzwilliam Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.
As the gallery’s owner Philip Mould rightly says ‘We are overwhelmed by the generosity of private and public owners whose willingness to lend will allow us to graphically express how the British born Samuel Cooper is one of the greatest portrait painters in European art history.’
You know what? I totally agree!