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Frank Cadogan Cowper, letters to his mother [Edith Cowper]

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 14 of 72 in this group

Reference code



Frank Cadogan Cowper, letters to his mother [Edith Cowper]





Extent & medium

2 bundles (of 34 items)

Historical Background

Frank Cadogan Cowper RA, sometimes known as "the last of the Pre-Raphaelites".

Born in 1877 in Northamptonshire he entered the St. John's Wood Art School in 1896, enrolling at the Royal Academy Schools the following year. At the time of the earliest of the present letters Cowper was still a student at the Academy schools and was shortly to begin assisting in the studio of Edwin Austin Abbey, R.A.

In terms of style Cowper looked resolutely backwards. He appears to have regarded his painting technique as the final synthesis of British nineteenth century developments. Although he regarded the Pre-Raphaelite movement as a touch-stone Cowper's immediate influence was the "historical" tradition as interpreted by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Edward Poynter and E.A. Abbey. After benefitting from remarkable early success Cowper was overtaken by the many convulsions in the Art of the 20th century. He later turned to portraiture, with a fair measure of success.

Not much is known of Edith Cowper outside of evidence provided in COW/3. It appears that she divorced Frank's father, also Frank, in the 1890s citing violent behaviour and infidelity. There are many references in Cowper's letters to her writing for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and it is likely that writing was her major source of income. Criticism of Cowper's attitude towards women, implied by Cowper's responses to her in several letters, suggest an independent, highly moral personality allied to a modern sense of sexual politics.

Content Description

As the letters are written by Cowper to his mother they display a remarkable openness in both subject and expression. Cowper makes interesting observations as a student of the Royal Academy of this period and provides an insight into the studio practice of E.A. Abbey, R.A.

Later letters contain trenchant opinions on the proper relation of the sexes and enough evidence to suggest friction between mother and son. Although the archive includes no letters by Edith Cowper her son does frequently reflect on her words, allowing for some idea of the conversation in the round.

Cowper is revealing in the details he provides of his early professional success. He provides accounts of all his early exhibited works and their reception. He also writes on his election to the Old Watercolour Society and to Associate grade at the Royal Academy. In the later letters he discusses arrangements prior to his commission to paint in the House of Lords.


The material has descended through members of the immediate family of Edith Cowper.

Acquisition Details

Donated 2005 by Revd. Antonia Cretney.


The letters arrived within their original envelopes, in two seperate bundles, tied with elastic bands. It was suggested by the donor that the bundles had always been seperate, and so they remain, now as two seperate series. Arrangement within this division is by strict chronological sequence.