Abraham Cooper

Rupert’s Standard at Marston Moor


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Not on display

Abraham Cooper 1787–1868
Oil paint on wooden panel
Support: 487 × 633 × 11 mm
frame: 669 × 791 × 65 mm
Purchased 2016


This historical battle picture by the London-based painter Abraham Cooper, RA, painted in oil on panel on a small cabinet scale, is centred on the figure of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who rides a white charger and wields the royal standard at the Battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644). The Prince, at the head of the Royalist cavalry, long thought to be invincible, had hoped to rescue the city of York from the Parliamentarian army and Scottish Covenanters under Cromwell and Lord Leven who were besieging the city. The Royalists lost the battle, however, after Sir Thomas Fairfax’s Parliamentarian cavalry proved superior. The Battle of Marston Moor, which took place around eight miles west of York, is the largest battle ever to have taken place on British soil and a defining episode in the English Civil War, a phase of British history that resonated strongly in early nineteenth-century Anglo-French society in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Amongst the numerous manifestations of this cultural moment are Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Woodstock, or The Cavalier (1826) and French historian François Guizot’s History of the English Revolution (1826); both texts were translated into French and English in 1826 and 1838 respectively. Cooper’s painting, dated c.1824, is therefore situated at the crest of this retrospective interest.

As well as historical subjects, including an earlier, different composition of this subject, Marston Moor (1821; The Chequers Trust), Cooper had established a reputation as a painter of horses and equestrian portraits (see, for example, Draught Horses 1828 [Tate N05977] and The Day Family 1838 [Tate T03422]). His work had attracted major collectors, such as the Earl of Egremont, by the time he painted Rupert’s Standard at Marston Moor for his friend and early patron Sir Henry Meux, a brewer and collector resident in Ealing. Meux (pronounced Muse) had encouraged Cooper, who started his working life at Astley’s Amphitheatre in Lambeth, which was then run by his uncle, to take up painting as a profession by commissioning a picture of one of his horses, and assisting in his education. An engraving of the picture by James Bromley, published by W.B. Cooke in 1824, acknowledged Meux’s ownership and was dedicated to him in its underline (an impression is in the British Museum, London). That this is the same picture is confirmed by a handwritten label on the back of the panel, dated 14 April 1868 and signed ‘Meux’, which states: ‘This Painting is the Property of Sir Henry Meux Bart and is held in trust for himself and his sons and heirs.’

Situating this painting in relation to Cooper’s wider output reveals it, despite its modest size, to be amongst his most ambitious works, compositionally and academically. It was a Marston Moor subject that rendered him eligible for promotion to full membership of the Royal Academy in 1820, after having been made an Associate in 1817.

Further reading
Charles Lane, ‘Cooper, Abraham (1787–1868)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004.

David Blayney Brown and Amy Concannon
April 2016

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