[John Sell Cotman, artist.] Autograph Letter Signed ('Jno: Bridgman') [to Cotman] from John Bridgman, describing his reaction to an oil painting commissioned by him, and discussing Cotman's mood and prospects. [With note by James Reeve.]
A highly interesting letter, indicative of the relationship between artist and patron in late Georgian England, and revealing of Cotman's mental state at a time during which, as the Oxford DNB notes, he 'suffered from depressive illness'. 4pp., 4to. Bifolium with 53 lines of text. In fair condition, on aged and lightly-worn paper, with a few short closed tears at ends of crease lines. The letter concerns the painting 'View from Yarmouth Bridge, looking towards Breydon, just after sun-set' (now in the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery). Cotman is not named, but is clearly the recipient, Bridgman concluding by sending his 'best remembrances to Mrs. Cotman'. It begins: 'Dear Sir, | I have received the picture safely and am much pleased with it, the composition is excellent, the distances are beautifully toned and well preserved, while the vessels in the foreground are4 in colour and handling masterly. [last word underlined] I had expected a different sky; you proposed giving, about the centre of the picture, rays of light from the sun which was just hid by passing clouds, these were to illuminate the picture, and would have given a natural and fine effect, certainly a more brilliant one than the present. It would seem that giving up your first intention, you have been undecided as to the sky and this deviation has given you considerable trouble, still the sky harmonizes with the foreground and at a little distance appears well (good) and is much better than when seen nearer: the objects being small, we are drawn close to the picture, and then the clouds appear broken little, trifling, anything but broad and grand very like some of the extravagances of Turner, this may be well to a certain extent as it may be with Cuyp and Claud [...]'. He continues for a while in the same vein, concluding this part of the letter: 'you will therefore take these remarks as fair criticism, and accept the advice with the same kindness with which they [sic] are given'. He next turns to Cotman's mood, expressing regret that he is 'labouring under such depression of spirits when you wrote'. He exhorts him to 'exert yourself and cast this humour from you, possibly your child's observation which so much affected you was merely to ask if it was you or one of his brothers that laughed, and not occasioned by surprize at hearing you laugh'. As he is 'possessed of such talents', Cotman 'ought not to be in want, and why you have not prosecuted them, I do not understand, we have amongst us many artists who are doing excellently, with half your talent, while you are unknown'. In Bridgman's opinion 'London is the first place for encouragement and notice', and Cotman should not 'hesitate a moment to embrace it', 'should anything occur to bring you here'. It would give him great pleasure to introduce Cotman 'to those who would employ and bring you into notice', but his 'family is so large and expensive, that it takes my income (a good one) to support it'. He has sent him, by his daughter, 'the price of the Picture (including 3 : 14 : 0 paid for colours, brushes &c. July 1. 1825. Fourteen pounds, six shillings; the case which brought the Picture I shall take the liberty of using for some of my daughters books, and send it after her as soon as it is ready'. He ends with 'best wishes for your success'. At the end of the letter is the following note from James Reeve (1833-1920): 'See Catalogue of Norwich Society of Artists 1824. No 18 - | "View from Yarmouth Bridge looking towards Breydon just after sunset" | "Painted for John Bridgman Esqre." | This picture is still in the possession of one of the Bridgman family at Croydon. | J. R. Septr. 1906. -' Accompanying the letter is a copy of the book 'The Water-Colour Drawings of John Sell Cotman with Commentary by A. P. Oppe', edited by Geoffrey Holme (London: The Studio, Ltd, 1923). With bookplate of A. K. Bowsher, and part of the letter transcribed on the front free endpaper, with note: 'This letter came from a number of documents in the possession of James Reeve Esqr. of Norwich, noted authority on Cotman & the Norwich school.'