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Celebrating Campbell Cooper

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Colin Campbell Cooper, Wikimedia Commons.

Colin Campbell Cooper was an internationally renowned artist most popular for his works that celebrate the wonders of city life. In addition to painting, he was an avid traveller and from his education in Paris to his journeys around Asia, all his travels greatly influenced his work.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Cooper was first inspired to become an artist when he attended the Philadelphia Exposition at the age of 20. He began his study of art at the Pennsylvania Academy and in 1886 moved across the Atlantic to join the Académie Julian in Paris. In Paris, he was exposed to the Barbizon style of art, famous for its loose brushwork and soft tones. Gradually, as Cooper began to paint cityscapes, his style transitioned from the Barbizon to an Impressionist style with visible brush strokes and an emphasis on movement. He remained an Impressionist painter until the end of his career.

In 1895, Cooper returned to the states and began teaching at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry (now Drexel University). During his time at the university, Cooper got married to the painter Emma Lampert and continued his travels. On one such journey, Cooper and his wife were aboard the RMS Carpathia during its rescue mission to help the survivors of the sunken RMS Titanic.

Unsurprisingly, Cooper drew inspiration from the event for several of his paintings.

Cooper’s work received rave reviews both abroad and at home. In one instance, his painting Fifth Avenue, New York was even bought by the French government to be displayed in the Musée du Luxembourg. Although many of his paintings portray florals, gardens and portraits, he is most remembered for his depictions of America’s increasingly vertical cityscapes. As The New York Times describes him, he is the  “skyscraper artist par excellence of America” and is celebrated for his unusual talent of finding beauty in areas where few think to look.

Following the death of his first wife, Cooper moved to Santa Barbara, California in January 1912, where he would spend the rest of his life. He described his new environment as “so conducive to the sort of things a painter most craves – climate, flowers, mountains, seascapes”, and viewed Santa Barbara as a comfort from abandoning the “artistic universe of America” that is New York City. In fact, he maintained a studio in the city for ten years after his move to California.

Cooper was also influenced by his father’s love of literature, writing books and plays, one of which even made it to the stage. Cooper died in Santa Barbara on November 6 1937 at the age of 81.

Written by Aiswarya Kishor