E.W. Cooke spent ten seasons in Venice between 1850 and 1877, initially visiting the city in search of new subject matter following the success of his Royal Academy exhibits of Dutch, French, and other Italian views. His loyal gondolier, Vincenzo Grilla, rowed the artist to new vantage points on the lagoon for each painting, and adapted his gondola by raising the felze or cabin top by twelve inches to accommodate larger canvases. Although Cooke's views may sometimes appear to be capriccios, they are faithful records, taken from unusual angles, without an element of caprice about them.
Cooke's principal interest was the shipping craft, against which the city, and its magnificent skies, form a backdrop. His attention to detail echoed that of the Pre-Raphaelites, and was praised by their champion Ruskin, who with his wife Effie (later Lady Millais) spent much of the early 1850s there writing The Stones of Venice, published in three volumes between 1851 and 1853.
In his correspondence, Ruskin noted that the artist embodied the most curious mixture of conceit and humility that he had ever encountered. Perhaps it was this that led Cooke to occasionally sign his pictures 'il Lagunetto', in emulation of Antonia Canal, 'il Canaletto'.
We are grateful to John Munday for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.