Colin Campbell Cooper (1856–1937), ten years junior to Francis Davis Millet, was already a successful painter by 1912, having established his reputation painting New York’s skyscrapers from about 1902 onwards.
Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, in the Rain (c 1905) is one of his earlier skyscraper paintings. This station, at Broad and Market Streets, was the primary passenger terminal for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and at the time served as its headquarters. The site is now occupied by the office towers of Penn Center. This is a good example of his exploration of colour and light in America’s increasingly vertical cityscapes, seizing the opportunity of a wet day for the brightness and complexity of the reflections from the street.
Flatiron Building, Manhattan (c 1908) is an important painting in many ways. It was one of the few made by Cooper using casein paints, which had come into vogue at the time. More characteristic of illustrations than fine art, Cooper shows how versatile these paints are in skilled hands.
This was painted just a few years after this distinctive landmark at 175 Fifth Avenue had been completed (1902). Then one of the tallest buildings in New York City, at 20 floors high, its triangular section makes it instantly recognisable. It was originally named the Fuller Building, after George A Fuller, the ‘father of the skyscraper’, but quickly gained its more popular title. It was equally quickly photographed in classic images by Alfred Stieglitz (1903) and Edward Steichen (1904), but Cooper’s composition, with its bustle of people, carriages, and aerial wisps of steam, makes his view one of the most impressive.
New York from Brooklyn (c 1910) shows the busy piers of Brooklyn still operating as the major gateway into the East Coast, and the ultimate collection of skyscrapers, most of which had only recently been completed. The colour contrast between the pale gold faces in sunlight and the almost purple of cast shadow is characteristic of Cooper’s style.
The Coopers travelled extensively in Europe and beyond. In April 1912, they were returning to New York in the liner RMS Carpathia, and happened to be among the witnesses to its rescue of survivors from the sinking of the Titanic on 15 April 1912. He produced several paintings showing the events, although as they are views showing the ship that he was on, they must have been based on constructed scenes rather than his direct experience.
Rescue of the Survivors of the Titanic by the Carpathia, above, and View of Steamship Carpathia Passing along the Edge of the Ice Flow after Rescuing Survivors of the Titanic, below, were both painted in gouache on cardboard. I apologise for the small size of these images.
In 1913, the Coopers travelled to India, apparently commissioned by a rich woman in the US to paint for her there. They visited, and painted in, what are now the countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
Taj Mahal, Afternoon (c 1913) is probably his best-known painting resulting from that trip, and was exhibited in Rochester, NY, in 1915, on their return. Cooper and his wife, Emma Lampert Cooper, showed an equal number of paintings, but hers seem to have disappeared almost without trace.
This white marble mausoleum was built to house the tomb of the Mughal emperor’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, between 1632-1653. Shown here in warm low-angle light, Cooper deftly avoided the more usual perfectly symmetric view.
Saint Philip’s Church, Charleston (1913) shows this beautiful Episcopal church in South Carolina, amid Cooper’s highly gestural foliage of trees. This church was built in 1835-6 to replace a series of ill-fated wooden buildings. Its spire was completed in 1850, and served as a navigational lighthouse for many years. Although painted in gouache, Cooper has used the medium with a light and loose touch.
In his later paintings, Cooper moved from the solid mass of skyscrapers to greater lightness and greenery. Although one high building is still present in his New York Public Library (c 1915), the street is less densely packed, and the plants and trees brilliant green.
In 1915 he exhibited in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and fell in love with the West Coast, which completed his transition away from skyscrapers. He and his wife spent the winter of 1915-16 in Los Angeles, and decided to move there permanently.
Cooper painted several scenes of that International Exposition, of which the most spectacular is that of the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco (c 1916), seen on a cloudless night.
Cooper still apparently craved the occasional skyscraper, and must have painted Hudson River Waterfront, New York City (c 1921) when he was back in his East Coast studio. The highlit and tallest building on the left is the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913, and until 1930 the tallest building in the world, at 241.4 metres. But here the clouds are also built up high, and rise to belittle human structures.
Back on the West Coast, Cooper completed some exquisite paintings of the lush vegetation in California, such as his Pergola at the Hotel Samarkand, Santa Barbara (c 1921). This hotel, most correctly named The Samarkand Persian Hotel, offered the height of luxury when it opened in 1920, in the buildings of what had been a boys’ school. Although it closed in 1940, the name lives on as one of Santa Barbara’s neighbourhoods.
Terrace at Samarkand Hotel, Santa Barbara, California (c 1923) shows Cooper’s sustained Impressionist style. However, in the 1930s, his failing eyesight limited his painting during his final years.
Colin Campbell Cooper in Wikipedia.
Emma Lampert Cooper in Wikipedia.