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Cooper, Alexanderlocked

(bap. 1609, d. c. 1660)
  • John Murdoch

Cooper, Alexander (bap. 1609, d. c. 1660), miniature painter, was baptized at the church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, in the City of London, on 11 December 1609, the second son of Richard Cooper (b. 1577) and Barbara, sister of John Hoskins (c. 1590–1665), the miniaturist; Richard and Barbara had married at the same church on 1 September 1607. Following Richard Graham's biographical note on Samuel Cooper (1607/8–1672) historians have until recently believed that Alexander was the elder of the two brothers (Edmond, Limners and picturemakers, 99; Edmond, Samuel Cooper, 84). Graham also states that Samuel and Alexander were brought up by Hoskins, so it is assumed that Richard and Barbara died while the children were in infancy. Little is known of their upbringing or training but the Dutch chronicler Joachim Sandrart suggests that Alexander learned the art of miniature painting from Peter Oliver—'Oliverii hujus discipulus longe celeberrimus' ('[he was] by far the most celebrated pupil of this Oliver'; Sandrart, 312). Both boys must have benefited greatly from the expertise of their uncle.

Historians have also believed that Alexander Cooper went abroad in the early 1630s and passed the rest of his life in northern Europe, dying romantically in Stockholm in 1660, 'alone, while at work, and with his brush in his hand' (Williamson, 90–91). The notion that Cooper died thus in Sweden may have derived from documents in the Swedish royal archives recording applications for payment of salary from the king of Sweden, such as those of 1651–3 (transcribed in Foster, 1, appx, 91–3), in which Cooper apparently claims to be terminally ill. The language of such applications is, however, conventional and does not necessarily indicate that Alexander was on the point of death. In the second application Cooper signals his intention of returning to England or of going to Tuscany but he seems to have remained in Sweden or Denmark until about 1656. In June 1658 he was in York with members of his extended family, signing a deposition in a probate case and claiming to have been resident at his brother's house in Covent Garden 'for these two yeares last past' (Edmond, Samuel Cooper, 83–5). He is not mentioned in any of the later documents relating to the Hoskinses and the Coopers, so he may indeed have died about 1660, probably in England rather than in Sweden.

The earliest work in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that is plausibly attributed to Cooper dates from about 1628–30. From the 1630s there is a group of portraits of Elizabeth of Bohemia and her family and household in the Bode Museum, Berlin. A portrait of Charles Louis, count palatine, datable to about 1632 (V&A), is signed with the initials AC. These sitters were all patrons of Peter Oliver and could have been painted in the Netherlands or, since they are not necessarily from the life, in London, where the English sitters painted by Cooper in these years would have been. In the 1630s Alexander Cooper may have contributed to the output of the Hoskins studio. About 1642, when his brother was becoming established in London, Sandrart records that he was in Amsterdam and that he brought with him portraits of the 'aulae Anglicanae' (Sandrart, 312). This is usually taken to mean the luminaries of the English court in London but possibly refers to the English courtiers of Elizabeth and Frederick of Bohemia in The Hague. Thereafter documentary evidence of payments to him and the identities of sitters place him consistently, until the mid-1650s, on the continent—in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark—the recipient of quite lucrative royal patronage. He is documented as receiving erratic payments in the Swedish royal accounts from 1647 to 1657 (Williamson; see also Cavalli-Björkman, Svenskt Miniatyrmaleri, 18–25). Cooper is referred to as 'court painter' from 1647 in Sweden (Cavalli-Björkman, Cooper, 7).

The stylistic evidence tends to confirm Sandrart's statement that Cooper was Oliver's pupil. His work projects into the mid-century the brightness and hard focus of Hilliard and Oliver, as in the Frederick III of Denmark of 1656 (Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen), which was by then slightly archaic in the context of the English miniature but was directly analogous in appearance to the continental enamel. His backgrounds are often in the flat colours of the sixteenth-century tradition; they include unconventional colours such as lavender or grey, sometimes lightened or shaded behind the figure, and on occasion even showing a curious non-naturalistic variant of a technique of floating wet washes into one another, originally developed by Hilliard to simulate the sheen of silk curtains in the background of the miniature. No landscape background by Cooper is known, which suggests that he was out of touch with the Hoskins studio during this phase of activity. Unlike Oliver or Hoskins he worked with a hatching stroke, shorter and much less graphic than that of his brother but firm and precise. The surviving œuvre is, however, small and much of it spread through the royal collections of the states in which he worked, including especially that of Sweden (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm). In the Victoria and Albert Museum and in other English collections there are few signed works to give a solid indication of stylistic criteria, and there are disturbing variations in technique among the works attributed to him that pass through the saleroom.


  • M. Edmond, ‘Limners and picturemakers’, Walpole Society, 47 (1978–80), 60–242
  • M. Edmond, ‘Samuel Cooper, Yorkshireman—and recusant?’, Burlington Magazine, 127 (1985), 83–5
  • J. Sandrart, Academia nobilissimae artis pictoriae (1683)
  • G. C. Williamson, The history of portrait miniatures, 1 (1904)
  • J. J. Foster, Samuel Cooper and the English miniature painters of the XVII century, 2 vols. (1914–16)
  • G. Cavalli-Björkman, Svenskt miniatyrmaleri: en konstbok fran Nationalmuseum (Stockholm, 1981), 18–25
  • G. Cavalli-Björkman, ‘Alexander Cooper in the Nationalmuseum’, Nationalmuseum Bulletin, 1/3 (1977), 7 [Stockholm]
  • J. Murdoch, Seventeenth-century English miniatures in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1997), esp. 235–50