Birmingham City Council

David Cox

 portrait of David Cox

Portrait of David Cox

David Cox was born in Deritend, Birmingham, in 1783. As he showed an early gift for drawing he was given lessons by Joseph Barber, and then apprenticed to the miniature painter Fielder. After Fielder died he was offered work at the Birmingham Theatre Royal in New Street as a scene-painter. MacReady was then the manager. Cox also toured with the company to other towns, and even did some acting. Eventually as he wished to advance his career as a landscape-painter he resigned. In 1804 he met the proprietor of Astley's Circus who offered him employment in Lambeth, so he left for London. There he sold sketches to dealers, and painted scenery for provincial theatres. He married Mary Ragg in 1808.

 etching of windmill, possibly near Moseley

Etching of Moseley Common near Birmingham, 1819. Taken from the Young Artist's Companion.

David and Mary had one child, David. In 1814 the family moved to Hereford, where they stayed until 1827. David Cox taught art at the Ladies' School, and at Hereford Grammar School. He visited London regularly, and would pass through Birmingham on his journey. During these years some of his work was published: A Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Water Colours in 1814; Views of the City of Bath in 1817, and the Young Artist's Companion, or Drawing Book of Studies and Landscape Embellishments published in 1825. In 1827 the family moved back to London, to live on Kennington Common.

 Cottage near Birmingham by David Cox

Midday
Cottage near Birmingham

David Cox's art is also to be found in histories and guides. He supplied drawings that were converted into etchings, appearing as illustrations in various books. Radclyffe worked on engravings for an account of Warwickshire published in 1829; David Cox supplied some of the drawings on which these were based. One he described in a letter to Radclyffe in 1827 as "High Street, Birmingham ". This looks down the street at the market, Nelson's statue, the Bull Ring and St. Martin's church beyond. Other pictures of the Birmingham area had appeared in The Young Artist's Companion. This illustration dated 1824 is the second of three set in different locations illustrating Cox's ideas about the quality of light; Morning, Midday and Twilight.

 etching of Tryfan based on a drawing by David Cox

The Trefaen mountain, engraving by Radclyffe based on a drawing by David Cox

Cox later sent drawings to Radclyffe to serve as models for engravings for Roscoe's Wandering in North Wales. The family stayed in London until 1841, when Cox decided that he would like to move back to Birmingham. He had many friends there interested in art. They helped him find Greenfield House, in Greenfield Lane, Harborne. He continued to visit other parts of the country to draw and to paint oil and watercolours, Wales, Derbyshire and Yorkshire; and continued to go to London for exhibitions. As his work became more famous he received more money for his art, but stayed at Greenfield House living as he had always done. His wife died in 1845, one biographer has suggested that Cox worked even harder at his art afterwards as he thought that 'occupation would be the best restorative'.

David Cox died in June 1859. He was buried in Harborne churchyard with his wife. His friends paid for a commemorative stained glass window to be created and put up in Harborne Church by Hardman and Co. In the Birmingham Daily Post it was written that this showed: 'the strong love of nature, the looking through nature up to nature's God...' as David Cox had done through his art during his life.


Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery holds a collection of the art of David Cox


Some of the books about and work by David Cox held in Birmingham Archives and Heritage:

Cox, David The Young Artist's Companion IIR 74
Roscoe, T. Wanderings in North Wales L07.2 WRI 1836
Hall, William A Biography of David Cox L78.1 COX
Solly, N Memoir of the Life of David Cox LF78.1