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Setting Sun

Alexander Cozens (1717-1786)

1770-1773

O.1997.3

Title Setting Sun
Object type Painting
Date 1770-1773
Artist/maker Alexander Cozens (1717-1786)
Support Paper
Medium Oil Paint
Dimensions h:242 w:308 mm
Accession Lot Sotheby's (purchase, 12/11/1997)
Accession number O.1997.3

Exhibitions : The Dazzled Eye : Object Label : O.1997.3

This oil painting on paper was an integral part of one of Cozens’s landscape systems, ‘The Various Species of Landscape’, which he was working on through the 1760s and 1770s, but which was never published in full. It was by far his most complex and intellectually sophisticated system for composing landscapes, which he argued could produce specific emotions that would be spiritually uplifting and morally improving for the viewer. The system consisted of sixteen ‘Compositions’ of landscape, each of which would produce certain responses, fourteen ‘Objects’ and, most importantly, twenty-seven ‘Circumstances’ or conditions of landscape, which affect its atmosphere, colour and tone. This work is one of only five oil paintings on paper, along with drawings and outline etchings, made as examples to demonstrate the system. It illustrates Composition 1 - 'The Edge of a hill, or mountain, near the eye', Object 3 - 'Woody, or vegetable' and Circumstance 7 - 'Setting-sun'.

Exhibitions : The Dazzled Eye : Object Label : O.1997.3

This oil painting on paper was an integral part of one of Cozens’s landscape systems, ‘The Various Species of Landscape’, which he was working on through the 1760s and 1770s, but which was never published in full. It was by far his most complex and intellectually sophisticated system for composing landscapes, which he argued could produce specific emotions that would be spiritually uplifting and morally improving for the viewer. The system consisted of sixteen ‘Compositions’ of landscape, each of which would produce certain responses, fourteen ‘Objects’ and, most importantly, twenty-seven ‘Circumstances’ or conditions of landscape, which affect its atmosphere, colour and tone. This work is one of only five oil paintings on paper, along with drawings and outline etchings, made as examples to demonstrate the system. It illustrates Composition 1 - 'The Edge of a hill, or mountain, near the eye', Object 3 - 'Woody, or vegetable' and Circumstance 7 - 'Setting-sun'.

Collection Theme : History of the Collections

The Whitworth was originally intended to be a museum of industrial art and design, partly with the aim of inspiring and improving Manchester's textile design and production. For this reason, Sir Charles Robinson's collection of textiles was purchased for the gallery in 1891. However, as wealthy local collectors began to present gifts of British watercolours and European prints, the emphasis of the collections gradually shifted towards fine art, rather than industrial design and crafts. The gift of a collection of historic wallpapers from The Wall Paper Manufacturers in 1967 to some extent redressed the overall balance of the collections. Nowadays, although some oil painting and sculpture is represented in the collection (particularly for the modern period), the Gallery sees itself primarily as a specialist centre for the study and display of works on paper and textiles.

Previous Exhibition: Object Label: O.1997.3

This oil painting on paper, by far the most important acquisition in the last twenty years for the historic collection of works on paper at the Whitworth, was an integral part of one of Cozens's landscape systems, The Various Species of Landscape, which he was working on throughout the 1760s and 1770s, but which was never published in full. It was by far his most complex and intellectually sophisticated system for composing landscapes, which he believed could produce specific emotions which were spiritually uplifting and morally improving for the viewer. The system consisted of sixteen 'Compositions' of landscape, each of which would produce certain 'Circumstances' or conditions of landscape, which affect its atmosphere, colour and tone.


This ambitious system survives only in sixteen outline etchings, corresponding to the sixteen 'Compositions', and one published list. One or two monochromatic drawings which might be associated with the system survive, and a series of twenty-three numbered drawings formerly in the Oppe collection and now in the Tate Gallery illustrate Cozens's intentions for the 'Circumstances'. Only five oil paintings on paper painted as examples to demonstrate the system are now known in the world; three of these are in the United States and Canada, a fourth is in the Tate Gallery, London, and the fifth, the Whitworth painting, is the latest to be discovered. It illustrates Composition 1 - "The Edge of a hill, or mountain, near the eye", Object 3 - "Woody, or vegetable" and Circumstance 7 - "Setting-sun".


This remarkable work was formerly in the collection of Lord Charles Greville (1749-1809), the younger brother of George, 2nd Earl of Warwick; the Warwick family were patrons of Cozens and subscribed to a number of his publications. The picture descended in the Warwick family until its purchase by the Whitworth in November last year; it joins an impressive collection of works by the Cozens family, as the Whitworth already possesses sixteen watercolours by Alexander Cozens and seventeen by his son and pupil John Robert, as well as the latter's seven Grand Tour sketchbooks of 1782-3.

Unstable States: Ruskin and the Truth of Water

Cozens was one of the earliest British artists to select skies and cloud formations as the principal subject of his oils and watercolours. This oil study relates to the landscape system that he evolved during the 1760s and 1770s entitled 'The Various Species of Composition of Landscape, Nature'. This treatise influenced a number of artists, including Constable, whose cloud study is displayed nearby.

Cozens regarded the sky as one of the key elements in determining the mood of a landscape. Through the images he created for 'The Various Species' he wanted to arouse a series of spiritually uplifting emotions, including silence and peace.

Alexander Cozens (1717-1786)

Born in Russia but educated in England, Cozens visited Italy in 1746-7. He was Drawing Master at Christ's Hospital from 1749 to 1754 and at Eton from 1763 to 1768. Cozens was a successful amd influential teacher, publishing a number of books and teaching manuals; almost all of his work in oil is now lost but his monochrome work in watercolour is quite widesperead.