This essay by the editor and critic William Ernest Henley serves as the preface to the catalogue of paintings left by Daniel Cottier at his death, and put up for sale in order to provide for his bereaved family. It makes a useful and lively introduction to the man and and his work, although one wonders what Henley meant by referring to Cottier's "grave peculiar faults" in the last sentence — the opinionated judgements and imperiousness to which he had previously referred, perhaps? Or the failure to provide more straightforwardly for his wife and children? Page numbers of the Internet Archive copy of the catalogue are given in square brackets. The long penultimate paragraph has been split at the page turn [xi/xii] to make it easier on the eye. — added and formatted by Jacqueline Banerjee.
aniel Cottier, who was born in Glasgow, was the son of a Manxman and a Highland woman — one Margaret McLean. The name is French; and it has been suggested that the founder of the family was a Huguenot exile. Be that as it may, it is certain that the Cottiers had been settled for generations in the Isle of Man, and for generations had followed the sea. The elder Cottier was a sailor, like his father before him, and in gait, in figure, and address his son — with his big head, his curly red hair, his shrewd and humourous eyes, his strong Scots accent, his unaffected naturalness and bonhomie — was far more like an ideal coasting skipper than an artist.
He was apprenticed to a glass-stainer in Glasgow. Having served his term, he worked at his art in Dunfermline and London and Leith — drew for some time under Mr. Ruskin — (whose teaching in the theory and practice of art had little influence on his future work) — went through certain classes in Edinburgh and London, and presently started in business as decorator, picture-dealer, and manufacturer of glass. Trading in Glasgow, he found his first church at Townhead in that City; but some of his early glass — and [ix/x] for that matter some of his early experiments in decoration — may be seen and studied in Paisley and in Aberdeen. Removing to London in 1869, he largely extended his business, and in 1873, after an uphill fight, he was able to open his New York house: since famous as the headquarters of an inspiration that made itself felt in several branches of aesthetic activity, and is largely responsible for the achievement of masterpieces not a few. In early life he was a man of singular agility and strength, and there appears to have been no inherent reason why he should not have lived to a hundred. But he caught rheumatic fever at Aberdeen; and, suffering from repeated attacks of it in after life, he died suddenly, from failure of the heart's action, at Jacksonville, Florida, in the April of last year.
He was full of humour and strong sagacity; kindly and generous exceedingly, while never losing his native shrewdness; so entirely independent that he may be said to have been a dozen years ahead of his generation, yet so trenchantly personal that as a critic he could see no more than what appealed to him, and would underrate good work enough if it lacked the qualities he loved. In this way: — let but the colour be right, the arrangement large in purpose and effect, the handling quick and free and essential, and his imagination did the rest; the sketch (whose charm is infinite) became a picture as he looked; so that his judgment was made partial and imperfect by his very power of seeing. In truth, there were several men in him: an artist, for example, who was the keenest hand at a bargain, with an art-critic who was also a heaven-born picture-dealer. In this latter complication of capacities, he was able to do excellent service to art and the collectors thereof Alert of vision, fresh and keen of instinct, nothing if not individual in judgment, nothing if not confident of the soundness of his own appreciations, he perceived, at a time when most critics were still cavilling or discussing, that the Nineteenth Century would be known, so far as art is concerned, as the century of that great [x/xi] school of painting whose finest and completest expression is the landscape of Corot; at a time when not many cared to invest in its output, he bought of that output whenever and wherever he could ; at a time when few artists and still fewer art-critics in Britain suspected the existence of such a school, he was distributing the work of its greater masters — Corot, Diaz, Daubigny, Rousseau, Monticelli, Delacroix — whenever he could find a collector keen enough to believe or gifted enough to enjoy. In England the parochial feeling was so strong, the parish vision so purblind, that even now the National Gallery contains no single specimen of the highest achievement of the century. But in Scotland, where the historical regard for France is yet a living sentiment, the case was far other. Scotland indeed abounds in examples of the art of the greater modern Frenchmen; and her good fortune is largely due to the insight, the activity, and the daring of Daniel Cottier.
As an artist, in furniture as in glass, he was not a whit less personal and abounding than as a dealer in pictures and an influence in taste. First and last, his aims were one and the same. As was to be expected of a man whose passion was the art of the great Venetians, he cherished two ambitions: to be nothing if not decorative in design, to be nothing if not sumptuous in effect. In the beginning — as may be seen from his window in Paisley Abbey: where you may study examples of all his several periods — his drawing was merely inexact and strained, his colour — in the which, be it remembered, he tended towards the use of the very strongest combinations — was mainly forced and crude. But with years the technical quality of his work improved, his vision grew clear, his sense of style was chastened, his temperament came to the mellowness of maturity; and he achieved such results in stained glass as no other master of the century has — not surpassed but even — approached. It is not insinuated here that these were all the work of his own hand. It is stated once for all, however, that they were chiefly due to his active and immediate inspiration. [xi/xii]
He had the faculty, common to all great artists, of picking his men, and therewith of so imposing himself upon them as to make them practically exponents and expressions of himself. Perhaps, indeed, it is as — not so much a master-craftsman but — a dominating and compulsive Energy that he will one day be regarded and described. Certain it is that he was at once imperious and persuasive in an eminent degree, and that he had, besides, a capacity for suggesting and exampling of the very first order. His mind not only worked in the terms of his art, but worked so vigorously and brilliantly that he could throw off designs enough in an hour — an hour of talk, too: it was like Rossini between his piano and his desk — to keep a factory going for weeks. For the rest, his own work and the work done at his impulse are marked by an admirable unity. The drawing is large and loose, the design superbly decorative, the colour, as becomes the "inventor of Monticelli," very generous in treatment and very sumptuous — exhilarating yet soothing — to the eye. To contrast an average modern window with an average Cottier is to contrast pallor with bloom, a noon of March wind with a September afterglow. More: he introduced new methods of working and new combinations of colours; his results, however costly, are of excellent technical quality — a remark that applies to everything, in whatever department, for which he was responsible; he altogether discredited the starved designs and the beggarly unsensuous effects of thirty years ago; he was frankly modern, yet lie worked according to the canons, and upon the true convention of his art, so that the opalescence of a Lafarge window came not within the scope of his ambition. It is therefore on his achievement in glass that his reputation as an artist will be found to be established.
It is to his illness that this collection of pictures is due. That made him incapable of insurance; of investments he knew nothing. He laid out such moneys as he could command in the wares in which he was most competent to deal — to be a provision [xii/xiii] for his wife and children. The present sale will show to what extent this theory of himself was justified. But whatever the issue, it cannot obscure the fact that his was a personality of singular force and charm; and that, if he himself had certain grave peculiar faults, his was an influence which, while none the less potent for being secret, made inevitably for righteousness in art.
W. E. H.
EDINBURGH, APRIL 1892.
Henley, W. E. Collection Cottier: catalogue of ancient and modern pictures, important works of the French, English and Dutch schools. New York: Durand-Ruel / Edinburgh: Constable, 1892. Internet Archive. Contributed by Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Web. 1 December 2016.
Created 1 December 2016