MR. COOKE'S LEAVES FROM MY SKETCHBOOK.*
Mn. COOKE is one of those artists who were better known ten or fifteen years ago than they are now ; younger competitors and a new style of painting have both tended to obscure in some de- gree his popularity, though his works may be seen year after year in the Royal Academy, of which he has long been a member.
It is now many years since he published a collection of litho- graphs, entitled "Ships, and Shipping," mainly intended, we fancy, as helps to young art students. This book, which is quite a standard one at the present day, is the work by which he will be beat known to posterity ; and when we heard that he had pub- lished another work, we anticipated no small artistic treat. We cannot, however, speak very highly of the present volume, though its faults are only such as we might have fairly anticipated from the habitual defects of Mr. Cooke's work. Ships and shipping, indeed, are the only things which Mr. Cooke has succeeded in thoroughly and satisfactorily portraying, and even in these his masterly drawing has often been only just able to carry him through successfully.
The fact is that Mr. Cooke, though an Academician, is not an artist, and never has been one. His pictures are destitute, almost totally destitute, of all feeling for either nature or mankind ; they are hard, unflinching records of facts, without that refining quality which tells an artist how to select, arrange, and combine his truths so as to make a picture from them.
As a draughtsman of everything but foliage and the nude, he
• Leaves from My Sketch-book. By E. W. Cooke, B.A. London: Murray. would be difficult to beat. His fishing-boats, drawn up on the shore, riding at anchor, or plunging in a storm, are alike excellent ; and indeed every style of ship and rigging is familiar to him, and. skilfully depicted by his pencil. But he does not seem to impress us at all. His boats ride the billows, but we are quite indifferent to their fate ; his fishermen and children on the shore only appeal to us as clever figures put in where they are wanted. He conveys none of the feeling of strength and freedom which seems to be the lawful heritage of the sea,—no sense of its cruelty, peace, or terror; he shows no delight in the flickering sunshine which brightens its surface with a thousand sparkles of light, no panic at its raging fury or sullen calm,—in fact, he is a painter of ships and shipping-, not a painter of men and the sea. And so looking through this book, we find over and over again the same faults to find, the same weariness to encounter. The Pont Royal, Paris, with the Tuileries on the left and Notre Dame on the right, and the broad Seine flowing calmly beneath the arches,—such is the firat pic- ture, and it should be interesting enough. But it is not. It is well drawn and composes well, but somehow the whole spirit or the scene has been missed. What strikes one most about Paris at first sight is undoubtedly its whiteness, its difference from our dingy, old London. But Mr. Cooke has not seen this, and has not given us any detail which we can fix our mind on with any pleasure. Seine and Tuileries, and St. Jacques and Notre Dame, and the Cite, they are all there, and equal justice has been done to all of them. The effect, however, is in- significant and poor. And here we may remark that some of this is probably due to the fact of the drawings being repro- duced by means of lithographs on slightly tinted paper. There is lost in these reproductions, beyond a doubt, all the sharpness of the original pencil, and very much of its force. There is neither a full, strong black, nor a clear, brilliant white to be seen from one end of the book to the other ; but what should be the greatest darks are, as a rule, a dingy sort of grey, and what should be the highest lights are a sickly yellow. The greatest fault in the re- production of these sketches was that they were not done in wood-engraving, which is peculiarly suitable for pencil-work.
Let us go on to some other specimens. Monaco. What a vision the name calls up before us! Tall mountains of crag and olives shutting out the world beyond ; a bold promontory running far out into the blue water, with the quaint little fortress and town surmounting it ; a white marble terrace, with orange trees, flowering shrubs leading up to the kursaal ; and over
everything the bluest sky, and under everything bluest sea, in the world. What of all this has Mr. Cooke given us ? The side of a house covered with a grape-vine, which overhangs two Italian speronares, as the natives call their lateen-rigged fishing-boats, and just a little glimpse of blue sea and cliff beyond. This is noC Monaco, as we know it. Not the beautiful haven of dreamy rest, where the lotus-eaters might have landed without fear of breaking their charmed repose, where Rip Van Winkle might have slept undisturbed for his twenty years, unless, perchance, the croupier's sibilant whisper had power to wake him. No; the salient features of the place have not been caught, not been understood. Let us pass on to a better example. "Dutch Shuits on the Zuyder Zee." Here we see Mr. Cooke at his best. These heavy fishing craft lying at their moorings are as well drawn and composed as we could have had them, and it is noticeable that though properly this should be less of a picture and more of a study than the majority of the subjects in this work, yet it is, as a matter of fact, the most pictorial of all of them. Easy to see why,—the artist was dealing with a subject he thoroughly understood and liked, and he was at his best accordingly.
"Mont Blanc, from the Jardin." This is another of the drawings which suffers materially from the absence of sufficient contrast in the lithograph. The snow here is no lighter than the sky, and the darkest rock-shadow is nowhere approaching to black. This is a typical instance of how ugly incorrect rendering of light and shade will make the most beautiful place. One could hardly tell, if it were not for previous knowledge, that those few scratches in the middle-distance indicated a glacier at all. The same remarks apply equally well to the following drawing of "Zermatt and the Matterhorn." The most successful of all the panoramic drawings here is the "View of Florence," taken from near the Church of San Miniato, with the great Tower of Giotto and the Duomo rising high above the rest of the city, and the Carrara mountains in the distance. This is a sketch which is beautiful alike for its accuracy and for its merits as a picture, the masses of dark trees in the foreground giving a lightness and. airy delicacy to the distant city which is peculiarly happy in the drawing of the City of Lilies.
There are many other sketches here which we cannot pause to enumerate, amongst which is one of Cleopatra's Needle standing in Alexandria. Mr. Cooke has taken some liberties with the surroundings of the monument, unless our memory deceives us, but certainly the builder's yard in which the Needle stood when we last saw it was not a scene calculated to enhance the beauty of the monument, though it had a certain sad significance of its own. The last picture here, of a dahabeeah in full sail up the Nile, is a very fine one, and perfectly faithful to the scene it depicts.
Altogether, if Mr. Cooke has not given us a book of pictures, he has given many trustworthy memorials of scenes he saw as he saw them, and if he has failed to catch that most fleeting charm which gives interest and value to common-place subjects, he has failed through no lack of skill or patience.