Captain John Cooke, 1762-1805

A half-length portrait of Captain John Cooke wearing a captain's full-dress uniform, (over three years), 1795-1812. The artist has incorporated the sea into background of the portrait to emphasize Cooke's naval achievements. He was captain of the 'Nymphe' when, together with the 'San Fiorenzo', they captured the French frigates, 'Résistance' and 'Constance' off Brest in March 1797. Since Cooke is shown in this portrait wearing the uniform of a captain with over three years’ seniority, the painting must postdate June 1797, when Cooke attained this rank. Cooke was later killed at Trafalgar when commanding the 'Bellerophon', being one of two captains to die in the battle: the other was George Duff of the 'Mars'. The portrait’s artist, Abbott, had established his first studio in London around 1780. He painted relatively few women and seems to have specialised in male portraiture, finding particular favour among naval officers. Standing unsuccessfully for election as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1788 and again in 1798, Abbott failed to gain admission to the inner circles of the artistic establishment but he was recognised for his remarkable skill in capturing likenesses. In his ‘Anecdotes of Painting’ (1808), Edward Edwards wrote that ‘the heads of [Abbott’s] male portraits were perfect in their likenesses, particularly those which he painted from the naval heroes of the present time.’ Suffering from mental illness, Abbott was certified insane in July 1798 and died in what was described by the diarist Joseph Farington as ‘a state of insanity’ in 1803. See also MED0156 for Captain Cooke's Trafalgar Medal, WPN1001 for his sword, AAA2464 for one of his pistols and WPN1059 for his dirk. (Updated April 2019.)

Object Details

ID: BHC2629
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Abbott, Lemuel Francis
Date made: circa 1797-1803
People: Cooke, John; Cooke, Christopher
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Frame: 953 mm x 825 mm x 112 mm;Painting: 762 mm x 635 mm

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