The Sight & Insight Podcast

This and That and Alexander Cozens

October 8, 2019

There is No Direct Path to Reality, or Alexander Cozens and the Blot on the Landscape

Connie began reading about the psychology of Cozens' work - preceding the Roscharch psychological test by a decade or more - and passed on her findings to David, who also became intrigued. They will be covering Cozens' work in more depth in their upcoming book, In Focus 2020. Judy then picked up the baton and started researching Cozens and was, of course, delighted to find he has English roots, albeit he was born in St. Petersburg, or thereabouts, where his father was working at the time on creating Peter the Great’s imperial navy. 

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Alexander Cozens, Vale near Matlock, Derbyshire, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 35 1/2, private collection

Cozens (1717–1786) studied in London from 1727, and by 1733 had learned etching. After his father's death in 1735, Cozens returned to Russia to assist his family who were suffering hard times. In spring of 1746, Cozens sailed for Italy, and settled in Rome. He worked in the studio of the eminently successful French landscapist Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-89), making Cozens one of the first British artists to study and work in Rome.

Sadly, Cozens lost many of his Italian works while traveling through Germany on his return to England in 1749. Interestingly, those paintings that did survive were recovered in Florence by his son in 1776. Want to know more? Here is a great link to further information and images Alexander Cozens - Experimental Painter, His Tercentenary

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Alexander Cozens (1717–1786), A Blot-Lake with Boat, Surrounded by Trees (date not known), brush and black ink, 16.2 x 21 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930), New York, NY. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Wikimedia Commons.

If you have enjoyed discovering the work of Alexander Cozens as much as Connie, David and Judy have, then check out more of his work online. His method of landscape painting is truly inspirational!

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Alexander Cozens, A Blot: Landscape Composition, c.1770–80. Watercolour and graphite on paper, Tate, London, UK, purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996
Ref.: T08114

Cozens's famous 'blot' technique was fully evolved by the 1750s. However he did not explain it in detail until the publication of 'A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape' (1786). The idea seems to have originally been developed by him as a teaching aid, to liberate the imagination of the student who, he felt, spent too much time in copying the works of others. He wrote that the blot was a 'production of chance, with a small degree of design'. The true blot was 'an assemblage of accidental shapes', 'forms without lines from which ideas are presented to the mind'. Blotting was done deliberately, the 'rude forms' which result having been made 'at will'. [Tate, London, UK Gallery label, September 2004]

"Everything that is painted directly and on the spot has always a strength, a power, a vivacity of touch which one cannot recover in the studio... three strokes of a brush in front of nature are worth more than two days of work at the easel." — Eugene Boudin

Until next time, happy painting, happy art loving,

David, Judy and Connie

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