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Norwich Cathedral: the North aisle of the choir
(c. 1807–11), John Sell Cotman
Cotman was one of those artists with such an original vision that his critical reputation was left to posterity to burnish. While his work met with only moderate enthusiasm in his lifetime, in the 20th century it chimed perfectly with the sensibilities of modernists who rejoiced in the clarity of his perception, his economy of means, and bold, reductive forms. He painted this spare, evocative watercolour early in his career when, after failing to be elected a member of the fledgling Society of Painters in Water Colours, he left London and returned to his native Norwich to set up a drawing school. Cotman’s approach is not so much antiquarian as Romantic, evoking the mood and atmosphere of the spare interior and its scarred and worn ancient stone and wood, their textures suggested by the small irregular patches of paper left exposed amid the flat expanses of muted grey, brown, and ochre wash. Acquired from the artist by his pupil, the Revd James Bulwer, the drawing has belonged to a sequence of notable collectors and comes as a rarity to the market in exceptional condition.