Charles West Cope

(July 28, 1811 - August 21, 1890)


His pictures have for subjects historical or dramatic scenes, and were very numerous; executed the frescoes that adorn the Peers' corridor at Westminster. He was a member of the Royal Academy since 1848, and professor there from 1866 to 1875.

The leader of the Etching Club from its foundation and probably the best etcher among its members. He was conscientious and industrious and worked at improving his plates. Known to his contemporaries as the Poet-Laureate of the Nursery, his etching served as a contrast to the high-mindedly historical frescoes he painted to decorate the palace of Westminster. He was on the council of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers.

Particularly well known today for his paintings of figures from history and literature, and especially his touching portrayals of women with children. Shown at upper right; oil on panel entitled L'Allegro, dates from 1848, and combines those themes, presenting us with a young woman accompanying a small child at the edge of a forest, with cupids flying all around her.

Cope attended the Royal Academy Schools from 1828, and afterwards studied in Paris and Italy for three years. On his return he was successful in the competition to decorate the newly-built Houses of Parliament and worked on many commissions throughout the 1850s and 1860s. Outside this work he only had time for small domestic pictures, often of a mother and child.

The Council of the Royal Academy selecting Pictures for the Exhibition 1875-1876

Cope used his long experience of designing complex figurative paintings to great effect in this work.
From right to left the artists shown are: J.E. Millais (seated in foreground), G. Richmond, F. Leighton, J.F. Lewis, E.M. Ward (standing), F. Grant, T. Faed, R. Redgrave (sitting behind Faed), E. Armitage (standing), J.R. Horsley, P.H. Calderon with J.C. Hook leaning over him. Sir F. Eaton, the Secretary is writing at the desk. C.W. Cope stands behind Armitage.


It is with regret that we have to record the death of Charles West Cope RA, well-known in the last generation as a painter of historical and domestic scenes. Mr. Cope was the son of a painter of no mean reputation and was born in Leeds in 1811. He came to London and first learned of Mr. Sass, after which he worked at the RA. After a residence of two years in Italy, on return to these shores his picture of "The Holy Family" attracted considerable attention, and was purchased by the art patron Mr. Beckford. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1833. In 1836, "Hagar and Ishmael" was executed, followed by "The Cronies" and "Paolo" and "Francesca" in 1837, with Osteria Di Campagne", near Rome in 1838, and "The Flemish Mother" in 1839. Following closely on these pictures, others were painted, notably "Help thy Father in his Age", "Almsgiving, Poor Law Guardians". He also painted a considerable number of pictures from the poets, such as "The Schoolmaster Goldsmith", "Hope - her silent watch the Mother Keeps", "The Hawthorn Bush", and "The Cotter’s Saturday Night."

In 1843, he entered the Westminster Hall competition, and his capital cartoon of "First Trial by Jury" gained a £300 prize. The following year found him in another competition for fresco designs, and his success with "The Meeting of Joseph and Rachel" procured for him a commission of one of the six frescoes for the new House of Lords. "Edward the Black Prince" of 1845 was followed by a commission from Prince Albert for "The Last Days of Cardinal Wolsey". Having been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1844, he was in 1848, an Academician. Besides other pictures in the New Palace he produced others of a domestic character, among them being "The Young Mother", "Girl at Prayer", "Maiden Meditation", "First Born", "Creeping Like a Snail Unwillingly to School". Among others may be mentioned "King Lear and Ophelia", "Royal "Prisoners", "Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers", "Upward Gazing, Repose", "Convalescent", "Scholar’s Mate".

He worked on some eight frescoes for the Peers corridor of the Houses of Parliament. The subjects are "The Raising of the Royal Standard", "The Defence of Basing House", "The Burial of Charles the First", "Speaker Leathall Asserting the Privileges of the House of Commons". Since completion of the last named works Mr. Cope has exhibited many pictures at the Royal Academy, the chief names being "Shylock and Jessica", 1867, "Othello Relating his Adventures", 1868, "Home Dreams", 1869, "Gentle and Simple", 1871.

Mr. Cope was not forgetful of his birthplace, for he presented an Altar-Piece for St George’s Church, Leeds, where it has stood since 1839, as a memorial. Mr. Cope was an original member of the Etching Club, and his plate "The Life Class of the Royal Academy" ranks as one of the most vigorous subjects ever etched by an Englishman. Mr. Cope was Professor of Painting, Royal Academy from 1867 to 1874, and a trustee of that body. He resided at Cranford-rise in Maidenhead; died on Thursday last at Bournemouth in his eightieth year, leaving a widow and several sons to mourn him.The Times, Wednesday, August 27, 1890

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Charles West Cope, sometimes called II.
Born July 28, 1811 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Died August 21, 1890