Frederick George Cotman was born in Ipswich in 1850. At the age of 18 he entered the Royal Academy School, where he began his career as a portrait painter and presented his first exhibit in 1871. Two years later he won a Gold Medal for historical painting. He then turned away from portraits and began painting interiors and landscapes. In 1889, at the Paris Exposition Universelle in Paris Cotman was awarded a Silver Medal. Later in life he returned to East Anglia and maintained a studio in Felixstowe.
One Of The Family is one of Cotman’s most famous paintings, and depicts a happy family seated around a table eating a meal. The setting was based on the rustic domestic life at the Black Boy Inn at Hurley on Thames. It shows a farmer (posed by the inn keeper) returning home for his meal, while his horse leans through the doorway to be fed by the farmer’s wife.
The models used by Cotman for this scene were an actual family, named Street, who lived in the north of England. The child on the bottom right of the picture emigrated to New Zealand when she was sixteen, and now a whole family of descendants of this child proudly own copies of the painting.
This ever-popular work was the first important painting by Cotman to be acquired by a public institution when the Walker Art Gallery, in Liverpool bought it in 1880. Liverpool critics at the time praised the work for its cheerful sentiment and argued that it commended good treatment for animals.
I can’t help it. Everytime I see this painting my mind starts singing: “A horse is a horse of course of course, and nobody can talk to a horse of course, that is, of course, unless the horse, is the famous Mr. Ed“. – But of course it isn’t Mr. Ed and if of course you asked this horse, if he was, he would simply say – “nay!”.
Look at the time, I must go and put my nose-bag on!