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Thomas Sidney Cooper was born in September 1802, in Canterbury, England. Although he already showed strong artistic inclinations as a child, he wasn’t able to receive any formal training due to his family’s monetary condition.
By twelve years old, young Thomas worked in a coach painter shop. Later, he also became a scene painter and would alternate between these two occupations regularly for about eight years. However, Cooper’s artistic aspirations were grander, and his passion was such that all his spare time was dedicated to painting and drawing from nature, which set the foundation for his future artwork.
With twenty years old, Cooper went to London, and he would draw in the British Museum and later be admitted as a student at the Royal Academy. To be able to make a living as an artist, he returned to Canterbury, working as a drawing-master, as well as selling drawings and sketches. In 1827, Copper married and settled in Brussels, where he also met the artist Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven. Cooper fled back to London, due to the Belgian Revolution, which broke in 1830.
Back in London, Cooper exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy in 1833, which started a remarkable and unprecedently long career as an exhibitor. In 1847, Cooper created The Defeat of Kellermann’s Cuirassiers and Carabiniers by Somerset’s Cavalry Brigade at Waterloo, which he submitted to a competition for the decoration of the newly built Houses of Parliament. In order to finish the painting, a friend of his sent breastplates of many cavalry regiments, at the same time, a trooper of the regiment of The Life Guards, posed for him as a model.
Cooper’s artwork is primarily associated with the representation of sheep and cattle, a fact that rendered him the nickname of Cow Cooper. From 1847 to 1870, the artist collaborated with distinguished English artist Frederick Richard Lee, where Lee executed the landscapes, while Cooper undertook the animals to complete the composition.
Cooper was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1845, and 22 years later, he became a Royal Academician. As the oldest member of the Academy at the time of King Edward VII’s crowning, the artist was appointed as a Commander of The Royal Victorian Order.
Throughout his life, the artist was a philanthropist, always using some of his wealth to help the poor. At some point, Cooper’s private art lessons became a fully-realized art school, which today is called University for the Creative Arts.
Thomas Sidney Copper died on February 7, 1902.