Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Harold Copping 1863-1932
Harold Copping has always been one of my favorite Bible artists. The 'American Art Archives' have him down as American, but he was in fact British. Born in 1863, Copping studied at the Royal Academy Schools in London, (the oldest Art school in the U.K.), and won a Landseer scholarship enabling him to visit Paris. He became a well travelled, and an accomplished illustrator, settling eventually in Kent in southern England. During his lifetime Copping illustrated many classical books from Charles Dickens to Shakespeare, but he is best remembered for his Bible illustrations.
Like William Hole and Frank Hampson, Copping traveled to Palestine in order to achieve authenticity in his Bible pictures. It is the realism I like about coppings watercolors, the great accuracy in the clothing detail, and of course his superb figure work! Coppings first illustrated Bible later became known as 'The Copping Bible' (1910). This was a best seller and led to many more Bible commissions.
Copping had strong connections with the missionary societies of his day, especially the 'London Missionary Society' (LMS) who commissioned him to produce Bible pictures for them. Coppings Bible pictures were put onto lantern slides and were used by missionaries in remote areas around the world, in much the same way as our pictures are being used today! Coppings pictures were also widely reproduced by missionary societies as posters, tracts and as magazine illustrations.
Probably the most famous of Coppings Bible pictures was 'The Hope of the World' (1915). This depicts Jesus sat with a group of children from different continents. Dr Sandy Brewer writes "The Hope of the World, painted by Harold Copping for the London Missionary Society in 1915, is arguably the most popular picture of Jesus produced in Britain in the twentieth century. It was an iconic image in the Sunday school movement between 1915 and 1960".
There's a fascinating article, (written by Dr Sandy Brewer), about the history of this painting and the big part it played in the early Sunday school movement. Read it here.
Harold Copping is one of the few artists along with William Hole whose Nativity scenes correctly show the wise men visiting the infant Jesus in a house as opposed to a stable. (See the 'Nazareth or Egypt?' post). In a similar way to Cicely Mary Barker, Copping manages to capture a serene wonder in the faces of those witnessing Biblical events.
Additional information about Copping gleaned from his biography. Added on 26.01.08
Harold Copping worked in a similar way to Norman Rockwell who used family, friends and neighbors as models in his paintings. Both artists kept a room of costumes and props for the models to use, Bible costumes in Coppings case.
In many of his Bible paintings, one of his wife's stripy tea towels makes a regular appearance on the heads of various Bible characters!
Copping was under contract to the Religious Tract Society (RTS) to produce 12 religious paintings a year which he did. This was a three yearly contract that was continually renewed up until the time of his death. He was paid £50 for each painting and, under the terms of the contract, was not allowed to paint religious paintings for anyone else. Had Copping opted to receive royalties on his pictures, he would have been a very rich man, but the regular work that this contract gave him made him envied by other freelance artists!
The more I see of Coppings work, the more I marvel that he is not better known! He had an incredible talent from a very early age and, in my opinion, should be included amongst the greatest painters of our time. It may well have been his decision to concentrate on Bible art that launched him into obscurity! Bible art, even in Coppings day, did not have the credibility that it once had.
Update: April 2008
A Copping Bible sold recently on Ebay for £42.00. I'm still after one!
Finding Harold Copping
Favorite Bible Artist #1 Frank Hampson
Favorite Bible Artist #2 Nestor Redondo
Favorite Bible Artist #3 Clive Uptton
Favorite Bible Artist #4 Cicely Mary Barker
Favorite Bible Artist #6 Carl Heinrich Bloch
Favorite Bible Artist #7 William Hole