Survival in the British art world: the art and career of John Sell Cotman 1800-1840

Moulden, Sarah (2016) Survival in the British art world: the art and career of John Sell Cotman 1800-1840. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis examines the art and career of John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), one of the most inventive yet beleaguered artists to have worked in early nineteenth-century Britain. As a teenager, Cotman entered a fiercely competitive art world in which survival required artists to choose wisely their unique selling point. Throughout the subsequent four decades, Cotman alternately fulfilled, transcended and struggled with the implications of this requirement, producing an astonishing body of work as he moved between cities, regions and nations in search of distinctive subject matter, opportunities and diverse forms of self-presentation. His art and career therefore illuminate a range of issues that have been the focus of recent debates in early nineteenth-century British art regarding the place of sociocultural identities and historical experiences, forms of professional and amateur practice, the development and status of new artistic techniques, and the making and breaking of artists’ reputations.

Here I offer the first full and critically-engaged study of Cotman since two bicentenary exhibition catalogues of 1982, both of which took their cue from a 1930s biography. Since these publications, our understanding of British art has been transformed, leaving Cotman behind in predominantly biographically-informed modes of interpretation. Many works and letters also remain unpublished, while his artworks have only occasionally been dealt with as works of art.

This thesis seeks to redress these imbalances by situating Cotman more broadly within the locations and environments in which he worked and by considering the relationship between those places and spaces as sites of artistic and personal experience. Those experiences, I argue, significantly conditioned the character of Cotman’s artwork in which exceptional marks or motifs bear witness to the changing fortunes of his career. An overarching aim of the thesis, therefore, is to offer a model for rethinking the relationship between an artist’s life and art, a relationship which has become a methodological sore point for the humanities.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2022 14:41
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2022 14:41


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