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 James Pattison (Patterson) Cockburn  (1779 - 1847)



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Lived/Active: Quebec/New York / Canada/England      Known for: British army topography, painting, illustration, printmaking,

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Ad Code: 3
James Pattison Cockburn
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
James Pattison Cockburn (1779 – 1847) (1)

A prolific painter, draftsman, illustrator and printmaker, Major General James Pattison Cockburn (AKA: James Patterson Cockburn), was also a career soldier from the age of 14, a combat veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, and a tireless traveler. He was born in New York City to parents who were members of the British occupying forces (2), and he died in Woolwich, England (south-east London), his home since 1832. (3)

In Canada, he is considered an important artist because of the numerous paintings, drawings and prints he completed while posted in Quebec City, serving there as commander of the Royal Artillery in Canada (1822 – 1823 and 1826 – 1832). His street scenes, landscapes and genre pieces are highly regarded as accurate representations of Quebec (then Lower Canada) and Ontario (then Upper Canada) in the early 19th century; they are priceless to students of architecture and history, and, largely because of that, hundreds of Cockburn’s works are in Canadian museums. (4)

His mediums were watercolor, gouache*, graphite*, sepia*, pen & ink*, brown ink wash, aquatint* and etching*. It is also believed that, for a time, he used a camera lucida* to create accurate drawings. His subjects were military activities, topography*, history, archaeology, landscapes, harbors, street scenes, snowscapes, buildings, community life, Niagara Falls, Indians, portraits and genre*. The locations are from his extensive travels around the world. His style was Realism*. AskART has some good illustrations of his typical work.

Cockburn’s formal art education consisted of two years at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, England (c.1793 – 1795), where he was taught drawing under Paul Sandby (see AskART).

His travels, as a soldier and a tourist, include (what is now) Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Gibraltar, India (the East Indies), Italy, Poland (Silesia), Portugal, Sicily, South Africa (the Cape of Good Hope), Spain, and Switzerland. In North America his travels also included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New York and New Jersey.

He exhibited with the Norwich Society of Artists, England (1809 [and 1860]) and the National Academy of Design*, New York (1836). Posthumously, his works have been the subject of several exhibitions in Canada, they were also included in the Canadian Centennial exhibition “300 Years of Canadian Art” at the National Gallery of Canada (1967).

Cockburn is the author of  the books Swiss Scenery (1820) and Quebec and Its Environs: Being A Picturesque Guide to the Stranger (1831). His published print sets include Voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar (1810), Pompeii Illustrated with Picturesque Views (1820), Views of the Tyrol (1820), Views in the Valley of Aosta (1822), Views to Illustrate the Route of Mont Cenis (1822),Views to Illustrate the Route of Simplon (1822), The Falls of Niagara (1833), and Montmorency waterfall & cone (1844). He also contributed his drawings to various publications with titles such as Delineations of the celebrated city of Pompeii (London, 1818) and The Rhine, Italy, and Greece, in a series of drawings from nature… with historical and legendary descriptions (London and Paris, 1841). (5)

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* there are over 600 Cockburn paintings, prints and drawings in the permanent collections of Canadian museums, they include the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), RiverBrink Art Museum (Queenston, Ontario), Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Public Archives of Canada, and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

In England his works are in the British Museum (London), the British Government Art Collection (London), and the Royal Collection (London). In the USA his works can be found in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), Cantor Arts Center (Stanford University, California), the de Young Museum (San Francisco), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.). (6)

1. All but one of our sources note his middle name Pattison. However, The Drawings of James Cockburn: A visit through Quebec’s Past (see AskART book references) cites a  London “War Office” document signed by Cockburn and spelled James Patterson Cockburn (Footnote # 1, p. 168). Patterson is then used throughout the book. In an effort to find another source for this spelling, we located a rare first edition of Swiss Scenery dated 1820, however Cockburn’s middle name is not used in the book. Source: Vancouver Public Library, Special Collections.

2. Cockburn was born on March 18, 1779, his father, first lieutenant John Cockburn (later Colonel), a member of the British army during the American Revolution, was posted in New York (with his wife) from 1777 to late in 1779 when he was returned to England. Source: The Drawings of James Cockburn: A visit through Quebec’s Past (1976), by Christina Cameron and Jean Trudel (see AskART book references).

3. From 1838 to 1846, Cockburn was the director of the Royal Laboratory of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. From 1545 to 1967, the Royal Arsenal controlled the manufacture of ammunition –  design, manufacture, testing and administration – for the British military. Sources: The Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich and  Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume VII 1836 – 1850 (1988), edited by Francess G. Halpenny (see AskART book references).

4. Please note: At least one source, A Concise History of Canadian Painting indicates Cockburn left Quebec in 1836 (p. 29); our date – 1832 – is used by the National Gallery of Canada and the Quebec Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the books Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume VII 1836 – 1850, Early Painters and Engravers in Canada, and The Drawings of James Cockburn: A visit through Quebec’s Past, which also provides the name of the ship – Coldstream – and a footnote (p. 168) for the source, The Quebec Gazette, Wednesday 1 August 1832.

5. Please note: Quebec and Its Environs: Being A Picturesque Guide to the Stranger (1831) was authored anonymously, however all sources acknowledge it to be by Cockburn.

6. Sources: The websites of the English and American museums listed.
“Biographical Index of Artists in Canada” (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)
“Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000” (2002), by Anne Newlands (see AskART book references)
"The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)
“A to Z of Canadian Art: artists & art terms” (1997), Blake McKendry (see AskART book references)
“Art and Architecture in Canada” (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)
“Canadian Watercolours & Drawings in the Royal Ontario Museum” (1974), by Mary Allodi (see AskART book references)
“Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume VII 1836 – 1850” (1988), edited by Francess G. Halpenny (see AskART book references)
“The Drawings of James Cockburn: A visit through Quebec’s Past” (1976), by Christina Cameron and Jean Trudel (see AskART book references)
“A People’s Art: Primitive, Naive, Provincial, and Folk Painting in Canada” (1974), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)
“A Concise History of Canadian Painting” (1973), by Dennis Reid (see AskART book references)
“Early Painters and Engravers in Canada” (1970), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)
"Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art" (1967), by R.H. Hubbard and J.R. Ostiguy (see AskART book references)
“Painting in Canada: a history” (1966), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)
“The Development of Canadian Art” (1964), by R.H. Hubbard (see AskART book references)
“Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 11” (1887), edited by Leslie Stephen (see AskART book references) – source for camera lucida reference
“The British Dominions in North America” Volume One [of 2] (1832), by Joseph Bouchette (see AskART book references)
Canadian Heritage Information Network*
National Gallery of Canada
Quebec Museum of Fine Arts
The Art Gallery of Ontario (catalogue summaries online)
New York Public Library (online catalogue)
SIRIS* Smithsonian Institute Research Information System
Design and Art Australia Online

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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