Sidney Cooper’s fame was based on the appeal of his paintings of cows and sheep. This example (Image 1), full title ‘Pushing off for Tilbury, on the Thames’, was completed in 1884, by which time the artist was financially secure. It is very large (2.2×3.3m) and was apparently not intended for sale but to hang at his home in Vernon Holme. It now forms part of the Canterbury Museums collection. Perceptive observers will notice that the title seems to have little to do with the contents of the painting. A catalogue image of the original work (Image 2) confirms that the boat ‘pushing off for Tilbury’ has been painted out of the current version – possibly after the artist’s death.
For the local historian, of greater interest are his drawings of local street scenes, in particular as these appear to have been executed with faithful attention to architectural and other details. A set of six lithographs of Canterbury scenes (1826-8) included two of the High Street (Images 3 and 4). Note the details for Queen Elizabeth’s Guest House and St Mary Bredman’s church identifiable on the right side in Image 3, and also the Coach and Horses and George and Dragon inns, and All Saints’ church, on the right side in Image 4. An early pencil drawing (Image 5) provides fascinating detail of the large parchment works near the West gate, and of Cock’s mill opposite. These all form part of the Canterbury Museum collection.
Sources: Our thanks to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz of the Beaney Museum for information and advice on sources. The new Museum currently has an exhibition room dedicated to Cooper, and has produced a helpful booklet on his life and works ‘Thomas Sidney Cooper of Canterbury – England’s foremost cattle painter’ (2003). Image 2 is from Illustrated London News 15 February 1902; other images used for this page appear in the Museum booklet. For further examples of his work see Westwood (1991) and Stewart (1983). Also Crampton (2006).