Cooke may have painted as many as eight pictures of Mont St. Michel, in varying sizes. His first visit in 1836 resulted in the picture exhibited at the British Institution in 1838, bought by John Sheepshanks and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1839 he noted working on a large Mont St. Michel painting with figures and horses, but this has not so far been identified. The present picture was exhibited at the British Institution in 1841. It was awarded a prize of 50 guineas and purchased at the private view on 30 January for 160 guineas by the Marquis of Lansdowne, a notable collector of 'modern' pictures.
Cooke has chosen a tranquil day for his depiction of the abbey fortress, despite the fact that the rising tide in the bay could outstrip a galloping horse; indeed on one visit he saw some travellers almost drowned on the causeway, a boat having been put off to rescue them. John Sell Cotman thought it a frightening place and couldn't wait to leave.
The fisherman with the large shrimp net seen on the extreme right of the picture appears in another of Cooke's Mont St. Michel views, Shrimpers and Montoirs on the Sands of St. Michael, Normandy in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. This was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843, and is the same size as our picture.
Yet another view of the subject was owned by Lord Lansdowne's fellow collector, William Wells of Redleaf. This was painted in 1844, cost 60 guineas, and was described as 'Misty Morning'.
We are grateful to John Munday for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.