Abraham Cooper

(8 September 1787 - 24 December 1868)


Born in London; his father was a tobacconist, who afterwards kept an inn at Holloway, but being unfortunate in business, his son was early left to his own resources. For some time he was employed in the mimic battles and pageants at Astley's theatre, then under the management of his uncle Davis. He employed much of his leisure time in making sketches of dogs and horses, and in 1809, without any instruction, succeeded in painting a favourite horse belonging to Sir Henry Meux so successfully that that gentleman purchased it, and was ever afterwards a liberal patron of the artist. He soon met with further encouragement as a painter of horses, from the Dukes of Grafton, Bedford, and Marlborough, and others of the sporting nobility and gentry, and many of his works were engraved in the 'Sporting Magazine.' In 1816. he was awarded a premium of 160 guineas by the British Institution (where he first exhibited in 1812) for a picture of the 'Battle of Waterloo.' In 1817. he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy; in 1819, he exhibited a fine picture of 'Marston Moor'; and in 1820, became an Academician. From that time he was a constant exhibitor of pictures, generally of small dimensions, representing groups of horses and animals, field-sports, battle-scenes in the olden time, etc.; a grey horse being a very favourite feature in them. Latterly his works began to betray too manifestly an amount of mannerism and weakness which could not but detract from the reputation acquired by him in his earlier days. In 1802, following the example of Sir Robert Smirke, the achitect, he resigned the rank of Royal Academician. He died at Greenwich on Christmas Eve in 1868. As might have been expected, there was but little variation in the types of his subjects and the character of their treatment. The following are some of his best works:
A Donkey and a Spainiel. 1818. At South Kensington.
A Grey Horse at a Stable Door. 1818. At South Kensington.
The Pride of the Desert.
The Arab Sheik.
The Dead Trooper.
Hawking in the Olden Times.
Battle of Bosworth Field.
Battle of Naseby.
Richard I. and Saladin at the Battle of Ascalon.
Bothwell's seizure of Mary, Queen of Scots.

[Bryan's Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1901-2]  />
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<p class=COOPER, ABRAHAM, battle and animal painter, was born in Red Lion Street, Holborn, London, 8 Sept. 1787. His father was a tobacconist and afterwards an innkeeper in Holloway, and at one time at Edmonton. At the age of thirteen he found some employment as an assistant at Astley's Theatre. At this period the lad was fond of drawing animals, and produced several portraits of horses for a Mr. Phillips. When he was about twenty-two years of age there was a favourite horse in the possession of Mr. Henry (afterwards Sir Henry) Meux of Ealing. Cooper desired to have a portrait of this horse, but could not afford to pay for it, and when a friend remarked, ‘Why not try your own hand on old “Frolic”?’ Cooper set to work, and having finished a picture, he showed it to Sir Henry Meux, who not only purchased it, but became his friend and patron. He now began studying art by making careful copies of horses from engravings published in the ‘Sporting Magazine.’ These were drawn by Benjamin Marshall, to whom Cooper was introduced by his uncle Davis, the well-known equestrian. Davis wished his nephew to ride at Covent Garden Theatre, then under the management of John Kemble, about 1812–1813. This, however, he declined, but placed himself under Marshall.

In 1812 he became a member of the Artists' Fund, and subsequently its chairman. In 1816 he was awarded a premium of 150 guineas by the British Institution for his picture of the ‘Battle of Waterloo.’ In 1817 he was elected as associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1820 a full member of that body for his picture of ‘Marston Moor’ (engraved by John Bromley). He retired in 1866.

Cooper's first picture, ‘Tam o' Shanter,’ engraved by J. Rogers, was exhibited at the British Institution in 1814. It was purchased by the Duke of Marlborough. In 1816 Cooper sent to the same gallery ‘Blucher at the Battle of Ligny,’ for which he received from the directors of that institution 150 guineas. The picture passed into the collection of the Earl of Egremont. In 1817 he had seven pictures at the Royal Academy. He now resided at No. 6 New Millman Street, near the Foundling Hospital. Many other pictures followed, among which were ‘Rupert's Standard,’ ‘The First Lord Arundell taking a Turkish Standard at the Battle of Strigonium,’ ‘The Battle of Bosworth Field,’ ‘William III wounded the day before the Battle of the Boyne,’ ‘The Gillies' Departure,’ ‘The Battle of Assaye,’ etc. Two small pictures painted in 1818, viz. ‘A Donkey and Spaniel’ and ‘A Grey Horse at a Stable-door,’ are in the Sheepshanks collection at South Kensington Museum. As a painter of battle pieces Cooper stands pre-eminent. In the British school he held a somewhat analogous position to that which Peter Hess at one time held in Germany, and Horace Vernet occupied for many years in France. It is said, however, that Cooper could never bear to be compared with his French rival. His knowledge of horses was, from his early training, profound. Among the celebrated racehorses of his day he painted and drew ‘Camel,’ ‘Mango,’ ‘Galaba,’ ‘Bloomsbury,’ ‘Pussy,’ ‘Amato,’ ‘Shakespeare,’ ‘Deception,’ ‘Phosphorus,’ and many more.

He largely contributed to the ‘New Sporting Magazine.’ There is in the department of prints and drawings, British Museum, a folio volume containing numerous engravings after Cooper, who exhibited, between 1812 and 1869, 407 works: 332 at the Royal Academy, 74 at the British Institution, and one in Suffolk Street.

He died at his residence, Woodbine Cottage, Woodlands, Greenwich, on 24 Dec. 1868, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. In this year he had at the Royal Academy a subject from ‘Don Quixote.’

[Sandby's History of the Royal Academy, i. 369; Art Journal, 1869, p. 45; Athenæum, 1869, p. 23; manuscript notes in the British Museum; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12, Cooper, Abraham, by Louis Alexander Fagan.]