Thomas Cooper Gotch

Pictures seem to be a common thread of our collection of Cornish Connections. On a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. I was delighted to see two such works of art in their 19th Century European paintings Gallery. The first one by Thomas Cooper Gotch, titled "Mental arithmetic" was painted in Newlyn in 1883. Thomas indulged in his love of painting outdoors in which an elderly fisherman quizzes the young girl who has brought him a cup of tea.

The painting was donated to the National Gallery of Victoria by the artist's cousin, John Speechly Gotch in 1884.

Thomas Cooper Gotch was born 10 December 1854 in the Mission House in Kettering, Northamptonshire. He was the fourth son born to Mary Ann Gale Gotch and Thomas Henry Gotch (born 1805), who was a shoe maker. He had an elder brother John Alfred Gotch, who was a successful architect and author.

With his parents' support, in 1876 and 1877 he first studied at Heatherley's art school in London and then at Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp in 1877 and 1878. Then in 1879 Gotch attended Slade School of Fine Art with Alphonse Legros in London. Gotch met his friend Henry Scott Tuke and his future wife Caroline Yates at Slade.

At the instigation of his future wife, Gotch and Tuke went on a painting trip to Cornwall visiting Newlyn and Penzance in 1879, where they were joined by Caroline Yates and his sister Esther. The couple decided that Newlyn should be the setting for their marriage as Caroline had spent the summers of 1879 and 1880 in Newlyn and loved the place. They married at St Peter’s Church in Newlyn in 1881, both then resumed their studies in Paris at Julian’s and Lauren’s Academies. It was in Paris that he adopted the plein-air approach of painting outdoors. The French term plein-air means out of doors and refers to the practice of paining entire finished pictures out of doors. In addition to his time spent in France and Belgium while studying art, Gotch also travelled to Austria, Australia, South Africa, Italy and Denmark. The couple had one child, a daughter, Phyllis Marion Gotch who sometime modelled for her father. They did not become resident in Newlyn until 1887.

In Newlyn he founded Newlyn Industrial Classes, where the local youth could learn the arts and crafts. He also helped to set up the Newlyn Art Gallery and served on its committee all his life. Among his friends in Newlyn was fellow artist Stanhope Forbes and Albert Chevallier Taylor. In Newlyn, like other art colony artists, he used the plein-air approach for making painting outdoors. He was also inspired by James McNeil Whistler’s techniques for creating compositions and paintings.

His style changed following an 1891-1892 visit to Paris and Florence. His soon abandoned the Newlyn rural realist works for a more stylised Pre-Raphaelite approach, to which he seems to have been better suited.

Thomas Cooper Gotch died on 1 May 1932 of a heart attack while in London for an exhibition. He was buried in Sancreed churchyard in Cornwall.

Judy Wright

October 2022