Miles   Edmund   Cotman

(5 February 1810 - 23 January 1858, Norwich Hospital)

In a family united as that of John Sell Cotman, the sons who follow their father's profession merge their lives in his. Miles Edmund Cotman lived an independent life for only sixteen years. Born on the 5th of February, 1810, and educated chiefly at home, he naturally became his father's pupil and companion. His Art career began at the early age of thirteen, when he sent his first contribution to the Norwich Exhibition. There he continued to exhibit until the doors were finally closed in 1833. His work is distinguished by its extreme neatness, a quality especially apparent in his Water-colours.

In 1833, his father, left Norwich for London, there to become Drawing-master at King's College School, handed over to Miles the teaching connection in Norwich; In 1835, his brother John Joseph, returned for health's sake to Norwich and Miles Edmund rejoined his father. In a long "and enthusiastic letter, dated December 16th, 1836, addressed to his son John, the elder Cotman announces his almost certain hope of securing for Miles Edmund an appointment as Drawing-master at the City of London School, and continues: ". . . . I am afraid you will be obliged to come up for a clay or two to drink to our great man. If he gets it he may fairly be said to be in the land of Milk and Honey — the School is between Milk Street and Honey Lane A master will be with the drawing-class to keep order during the whole lesson. I hope this, my lad, will be considered worth 9 pence to pay for it (the postage) cheerfully."

But this was not to be, and Miles Edmund became his father's assistant at King's College School, and there assumed the entire responsibility towards the end of his parent's lile in 1842.

Widow Cotman and her family continued to reside at 42, Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, and her eldest son endeavoured by every means in his power to keep up the establishment. He was a quiet and somewhat reserved man, suffering much from depression, notwithstanding which, he performed his duties with commendable regularity.

In 1846, there was published by Charles Muskett, Old Haymarket, Norwich, a thin quarto entitled, "Eight Original Etchings by the late John Sell Cotman; also Ten Etchings by M. E. Cotman, now first published." The eight etchings by his deceased father are of single figures mostly in the style of Rembrandt.

There are also two marine subjects, the only sea bits ever etched by John Sell Cotman, one of them representing the Quay at Fecamps. An independent set, rarely met with, bears the title, "Eleven Original Etchings, by M. E. Cotman," Norwich, Charles Muskett, 1846.

These etchings show talent of an unambitious order, their chief merit being adequate expression with the minimum of labour -- the indolence of genius. In the Reeve Collection (Print-room, British Museum) there are some thirty-six proofs in various states. His series of twelve lithograph facsimiles of his father's drawings, 1841, is very effective and creditable work.

Miles Edmund Cotman contributed between 1835 and 1856 ten pictures to the British Institution, four to the Royal Academy, and nineteen to the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street; generally marine subjects painted in oil colours, which, for their careful and neat touch, are somewhat Vandevelde-like. While his small sea views are distinguished by a silken smoothness, appropriate to such as represent calm water and open skies, his larger canvases show more freedom, as if while painting them he bore in mind his father's complaint that "his manner was hard." As a rule his pictures are well composed, faultless in drawing, and firmly painted, yet sometimes they have a tame appearance and suffer from a lack of brush-play.

In the latter part ot his life he resided at North Walsham, thirteen miles north of Norwich, on the Cromer Road. While health lasted he painted and gave lessons, but succumbed to a diseased ankle, and was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where he died January 23, 1858.

His Water-colour Art excelled that of his contemporaries in its neatness of touch, firmness of drawing", and sweetness of colouring. It must be admitted that those who prefer rapid and sketchy freedom, with all its looseness, to painstaking realism, will not admire them. It almost seems as if the elder Cotman divided his own varied gifts between his sons, leaving to his firstborn the carefulness of his architectural prime, and to his second son, John Joseph, the almost reckless freedom of his later and riper years. Those artists who decry the laboured finish of which they themselves are incapable, should reflect that difference of vision may have much to do with the matter. Rembrandt, while his eye was young and clear, painted with the finish of a Douw; but in his old age, with a free negligence of all detail. Fortunately Art is many-sided and there will always be found patrons with clear vision, for artists similarly gifted. All that is required is that we should refuse to acknowledge the dicta of others as infallible, and, whether artists or patrons, should be true to ourselves.

The Norwich School of Painting: being a full account of the Norwich exhibitions, the lives of the painters, the lists of their respecitve exhibits and descriptions of the pictures, William Frederick Dickes, 1905.

Landscape painter, eldest son of John Sell Cotman [q.v.]. He was brought up as an artist under his father's instruction. He continued to teach his father's pupils and classes at Norwich after the latter was appointd drawing-master at King's College, London. In 1836 he was appointed assistant to his father at King's College, and 1843, succeeded him in his appointment; but, owing to a change in the arrangements which would have required a longer attendance at the college than his health permitted, he did not hold the appointment long.

Cotman painted river and sea views in oil and water colours, and etched a few plates, some of which were published by C. Muskett of Norwich; he also lithographed twelve facsimilies of sketches made by his father in Norfolk, which were published. His works are marked by taste and skill rather than by power or originality. He exhibited four works at the Royal Academy, ten at the British Institute, and nineteen at the Society of British Artists between 1835 and 1856.

In the latter part of his life he resided at North Walsham, where he continued painting and teaching till his health declined. He was admitted into the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in December 1857, suffering from disease of the ankle-joint, and died there 23 January 1858.

[Grave's Dictionary of Artists; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XII., 1887; Bryan's Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1901-1902.; Mr. James Reeve of Norwich; ]

View painter's work: Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858) [new window view]


Cotman's firstborn was given his mother's maiden name at his christening. Miles Edmund, born at Norwich in 1810, became a pupil and companion of his father, John Sell Cotman. He commenced when a boy of thirteen to send drawings to the exhibitions of the Norwich Society, and continued to do so until the Society ceased to exist. He painted both in oil and water-colours, and his works, in which he followed the style of his father's earlier paintings, are distinguished for their preciseness. When J. S. Cotman left Norwich to become the drawing-master at King's College School, he handed over his teaching connection in Norwich to his eldest son. Later, Miles Edmund came to London to assist at King's College School, and eventually succeeded his father as drawing-master there. Owing to ill health he was obliged to relinquish the post and he returned to his native city to reside with his brother, John Joseph, at Thorpe until 1835, when the two brothers removed to Great Plumstead, on the outskirts of Norwich. After teaching at North Walsham for some years, he died in 1858.

JOHN JOSEPH COTMAN: Born in 1814, at Southtown, Great Yarmouth. He was placed with his uncle, a haberdasher in London Street, but possessing the same early proclivities as his father, he spent much of his time in wandering about the country making sketches. He accompanied his father to London in 1834, but returned again to Norwich to take over the teaching connection from his brother Miles, when the latter went to King's College School. From a journal which J. J. Cotman kept (now in the Reeve Collection), it may be gathered that he was subject to ungovernable fits of temper and wanting in stability, and as he says "one of the defects in my character is now, and has been, indecision and want of perseverance." This was certainly the case, as an entry "My plan is now to rise at seven and get two hours work before breakfast," is followed by "Rose late, nothing done before breakfast not even shaved." He executed a few oil paintings, but is better known for his water-colours. Unlike his brother's work, they are executed in a free manner, and in many of them blue is extensively used. Suffering from cancer, he was obliged to enter the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and died there in 1878.

[Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XII., 1887].

John Sell Cotman, who had only lost one child, a daughter born in 1822, left a widow, four sons, and one daughter. Of these Miles Edmund was born in Norwich, February 5th, 1810; Ann, born July 13th, 1812, died unmarried; John Joseph, born at Southtown, May 29th, 1814; Francis Walter, born July 5th, 1816; and Alfred Henry, born October nth, 1819. The whole family had shared their father's labours and become "Drawing Mad."

View painter's work: Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858) [new window view]

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