George Vicat Cole RA, Woodland Landscape With Birch Trees & Foxgloves

George Vicat Cole RA, Woodland Landscape With Birch Trees & Foxgloves

This late 19th-century watercolour by eminent British landscape painter George Vicat Cole RA (1833-1893) depicts a dense woodland view with track, birch trees and foxgloves. It’s exquisitely rendered and near-photographic in its execution.

An abundance of birch trees extend their silvery branches - creating a verdurous canopy of luscious green. While in the foreground, various flora, including an array of foxgloves, is painstakingly observed with the granularity of a botanical study. This was Vicat Cole at his masterly best - capturing the fleeting nuances of the British countryside.

Well-respected and loved by his peers, Vicat Cole is regarded as one the finest British landscape painters of the Victorian era. During his career, he saw a significant change in the reputation of landscape art - from its humble beginnings, hanging in the darker corners of the Royal Academy, through to its proud display alongside works by the greatest academicians. Between 1853-1892, his works were shown at all bar two of the Royal Academy’s illustrious exhibitions, quite a feat for a landscape painter. And each year, the press became ever-more glowing in its praise - “Vicat Cole who we may call a realist of the highest class; for never has the scenery of Surrey been painted with such a perfect apprehension of local beauty”.

Close friend, Robert Chignall, a barrister, described the life of Cole in an extensive book, which often makes reference to his charming demeanour and lovable character.

“A fine head, with handsome, clearly-marked features, was set on a well-knit form of about 5 feet 7 inches in height. His eyes were of a bluish-grey tint, large and clear. The expression of his face was a singular mixture of strength and sweetness. To the latter quality photographs rarely do justice, and none that are preserved of him bring out the lovable nature or bright glances of humour which were so characteristic of the man. In his case, the outward expression represented accurately the inner qualities. The most prominent of these was sincerity. He was utterly incapable of doing or saying a mean or false thing.”

“Peculiarly susceptible to the influence of sweet sounds and artistic beauty in every form; a man of much tenderness and gentleness.”

“To watch him paint was in itself a delight; to see the details grow on his canvas, an education in the observation of Nature.”

“He would stand absorbed in watching the flight of birds, the bending of trees before the wind, the clouds sweeping over the sky, or the tranquil glories of the sunset hour. All was being stored in his marvellous memory for future use. Indeed, for every study he put on canvas, he would transfer a hundred to the recesses of his memory.”

Vicat Cole produced this watercolour in 1885, at which time he’d undertaken a remarkable project - to paint views along the River Thames, from source to sea. As such, he acquired a small boat from which to paint and moored at various locations along its leafy banks - much to the amusement of locals. He was also recorded as working precariously within a punt:

“He was in a punt, with his big umbrella shading him from the sun as he worked a backwater near Goring. His easel stood in the bottom of the punt, and, as the canvas was a large one, it extended far beyond the width of the punt. It was all very primitive and simple, and when I made some remark about finishing the work in the studio Mr Cole said: My studio is the open air.”

Away from painting, Vicat Cole enjoyed a wide circle of friends including artists Frederic Leighton and John Everett Millais. They’d often travel along the Thames aboard his floating studio - stopping for picnics and drinks. He also enjoyed a lifelong friendship with artist Benjamin Williams Leader.

Held within a 19th-century gilt frame, probably original.

Medium: Watercolour
Overall size: 25½” x 34½” / 65cm x 88cm
Year of creation: 1885
Labels & Inscriptions: Label ‘Vicat Cole RA 1885’
Condition: Artwork presents well. Frame with some light wear. Slight yellowing to the mount but it’s original.
Artist’s auction maximum: £47,788

George Vicat Cole

George Vicat Cole RA

Vicat Cole was an elected member of the Royal Academy. His works are held in numerous public collections including at the Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, V&A, Tate, Manchester Art Gallery, National Trust, National Museum of Wales, Royal Academy, and Walker Art Gallery.

Learn more about George Vicat Cole in our directory.

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