Cole was born at Portsmouth, the son of the landscape painter, George Cole (1810-1883), and in his practice followed his father's lead with marked success. He exhibited at the British Institution at the age of nineteen, and was first represented at the Royal Academy in 1853. His election as an associate of this institution took place in 1870, and he became an Academician ten years later. He died in London on the 6th of April 1893. The wide popularity of his work was due partly to the simple directness of his technical method, and partly to his habitual choice of attractive material.
Most of his subjects were found in the counties of Surrey and Sussex, and along the banks of the Thames. One of his largest pictures, The Pool of London, was bought by the Chantrey Fund Trustees in 1888, and is now in the Tate Gallery.
He was the father of the painter Rex Vicat Cole.
See Robert Chignell, The Life and Paintings of Vicat Cole, R.A. (London, 1899).
Cole, George Vicat (1833-1893), landscape painter, was born in Portsmouth on 1April 1833, eldest of five children of the landscape painter George Cole (1810-1883) and Eliza Vicat. Initially exhibiting as George Cole, junior, from the mid-1850s he adopted his mother's French Huguenot maiden name to distinguish his name from that of his father. Later in life the younger Cole dropped 'George' altogether, using 'Vicat' (pronouned with a long 'i') as his first name.
As a boy, Cole was taught by his father alone and accompanied the older painter on journeys round country houses, where they would paint portraits of the owners, their horses and dogs. He also made copies of prints after works of Turner and Cox. Father and son took sketching tours together, in England, Wales and also to the Moselle. George Cole sold up in Portsmouth and moved to Fulham; among the auction lots were 2works by the younger artist. Vicat Cole's work exhibited in London for the first time: View from Ranmore Common was favourably hung at the British Institution galleries and sold for £21. At the time of his twentieth birthday, in 1833, two of his works were accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy.
After a quarrel with his father in 1855, Cole rented rooms in Torriano Villas, Camden and, in 1856, married Mary Ann Chignell, daughter of a wealthy Hampshire tradesman. The years 1857-5he spent at the picturesque village of Albury in Surrey, where Cole, his wife and first of three daughters (Mary Blanche, born in 1858) were joined by the painter Benjamin Williams Leader. Cole's breakthrough came with harvest Time, painted at Hombury Hill, Surrey (1860, Bristol City Art Gallery), a large canvas completed in the open air, strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. The Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts awarded Cole a silver medal for the work.
In 1861 Cole moved to 19 Gloucester Road, Kensington, travelling annually in search of subject matter. In 186he resigned from the Society of British Artists in order to seek election as a Royal Academician. His works from this period, such as Springtime (1865, Manchester City Art Gallery) espouse a brilliantly detailed and highly-coloured Pre-Raphaelite realism. His work increasingly concentrated on Surrey landscapes: Summer's Golden Crown (loc. unknown) returned to a harvest subject with conspicuous success at the RA in 186and the Paris International Exhibition of 1867. Cole's style broadened in the late 1860s: the dramatic A Pause in the Storm at Sunset (RA 1869; loc. unknown) impressed public and critics alike. In January 1870 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and from that time rarely exhibited his work in any other forum.
Assured of financial, if not always critical, success, Cole moved in 187to Little Campden House, an elegant early eighteenth-century mansion in Kensington. In the large studio he pursued his interest in science, also fitting automatic gates and an early telephone. His biographer, Robert Chignell, describes Cole's fine head, with handsome clearly-marked features…set on a well-knit form of about feet inches in height (Chignell vol.I, p.3) His character was quiet and reserved, though he was described by B.W. Leader as 'most good-tempered, liberal and hospitable, fond of a joke' (Chignell vol.III, p141). Both at his home and on his Thames steam launch, 'The Blanche', he entertained a circle of friends which included Frederic Leighton, John Everett Millais and many other leading artists, notably Edward Linley Sambourne who referred to the group as 'the Calithrumpkins' (Cole Papers).
Cole continued to produce a series of large exhibition landscapes of Surrey and Sussex subjects through the 1870s, but expanded his range with Richmond Hill (RA 1875; loc. unknown) and The Alps at Rosenlaui (RA 1878; loc. unknown). After his election to the status of full Academician, in 1880, he worked exclusively on a series of major paintings of the Thames from its source to the sea, commissioned by the dealer William Agnew. During these years he became a well-known figure on the river, often painting from his steam launch 'The Blanche'. After a series of rural scenes, he surprised his public in 188with a grandiose canvas, The Pool of London (RA 1888; London, Tate Gallery) in which smoke and cloud at sunset part to reveal the dome of St Paul's. Dramatic and painterly, it betrays none of the precise naturalism which had distinguished his earliest work. The Pool of London was purchased for £2000 under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest. W.E. Gladstone later wrote to Cole's biographer, Robert Chignell, expressing his admiration for the work.
Vicat Cole's work, like that of his father, George Cole, is variable in quality, but he was able at his best to produce landscapes exactly suited to the demands of the mid-Victorian public. Despite the lavish tributes paid by Leighton and others after his death of a heart attack on April 1893, his work soon came to seem outmoded. He is buried at Kensall Green Cemetery, London. Robert Chignell's lavish three-volume biography, published in 1896, provides reproductions of a large number of his works. His son, Rex Vicat Cole (1870-1940), who assisted his father in the early 1890s, became a landscape painter, author and teacher.
R. Chignell, The Life and Paintings of Vicat Cole, RA (1896). T. Barringer, The Cole Family: Painters of the English Landscape, 1838-197(exhibition catalogue, Portsmouth, 1988). J. Dafforne, 'British artists: their style and character: No. CXII - Vicat Cole ARA', Art Journal, 1870, pp.177-9. H Schutz Wilson, 'Our living artists: Vicat Cole RA' Magazine of Art, vol.1, 1878. Anon 'Celebrities at home, no.CCCXCIX: Mr Vicat Cole at Little Campden House, Kensington', The World May 1885. Obituary, Times, 2April 1893. Rex Vicat Cole, The Artistic Anatomy of trees, 1916. C. Payne, Toil and Plenty: Images of the Agricultural Landscape in England, 1870-1890, 1993, pp.120-122. Cole Papers (private collection, UK).