Cotman in Normandy
Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13 January
The first and last rooms of this exhibition are
the ones that admirers of John Sell Cotman will get the greatest pleasure from.
They contain the watercolours. In the intervening room are mainly the etchings
he made as a result of three trips to Normandy
in 1817, 1818 and 1820. In all they added up to his spending six months touring
the countryside there. His plan was to
create a volume of etchings to raise money by tapping into the interest in
things French in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. The book did not,
however, prove the best seller he had hoped for. There is no denying they are
splendid etchings as Cotman was a superb draughtsman. He was fascinated by the
links between the architecture of the Normans in
Britain – he had painted
many of the Norman churches in his native county of Norfolk
– and those in their homeland. The drawings at the least are a record of
buildings often under threat but they are dead pictures unlike the watercolours.
They are also studio works done from sketches he made on the spot. The
watercolours on show do not disappoint, and neither does the exhibition as long
as one is not expecting something it was not designed to deliver.
Alencon 1823 © Birmingham Museums
Durham Cathedral 1806. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Entrance to the town of Falaise 1823. © Martin Gregory
Mont St Michel 1818. By permission of the Keepers and Governors of School.
Chateau Navarre near Evreux, Normandy c. 1828. © Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
An Old Stone House, Rues St Jean, Caen. © Professor Donald Stone.