Theme/Style – Western landscapes, Native American scenes, figurative art, portraiture, allegory, trompe l’oeil still lifes, illustration
Media – Oils
Artistic Focus – “Of the 16,000 artists I’ve chronicled,” declared Edan Hughes, author of Artists in California, 1786-1940, “none was as colorful as Astley David Middleton Cooper…. He was a true Bohemian…. He knew how to party. And paint.” Indeed, A.D.M. Cooper embodied the artistic spirit of the West – irrepressibly adventurous, while always deeply respectful of its landscape, native peoples and wildlife. Though he later developed broad, impressionistic brush strokes and a dark, Tonalist style, Cooper invariably infused his works with action, drama, and even political commentary, depicting the vanishing American West as a paradise lost.
Career Highlights –
- Astley David Middleton Cooper was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1856. At the age of 20, after studying art at the city’s Washington University, Cooper embarked on a journey through the Western U.S., living with Indian tribes and recording his experiences in drawings and paintings.
- Cooper eventually settled in Boulder, Colorado, where he took a position as an illustrator for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and soon received national attention for his depictions of Native Americans and frontier landscapes.
- Cooper moved on to California when he was 24, establishing his first studio in San Francisco’s Latin Quarter (now known as North Beach). His reputation continued to grow, both as a bon vivant and accomplished artist, and among his commissions was an official portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant.
- By the early 1880s Cooper’s paintings were selling well throughout the United States and Europe, and in 1883 he moved south to the Santa Clara Valley, making his home in San Jose. There he became a colorful character on both the art and social scene, and could just as easily be found sitting in with local orchestras (he was an accomplished violinist), as imbibing in one of the city’s saloons, many of whose walls were graced with one or more of his paintings of voluptuous nudes.
- Cooper’s enthusiasm for his leisure activities was more than equaled by his commitment to his career as a serious artist. He built an elaborate, Egyptian-style studio, and completed more than a thousand paintings during his lifetime, several of which commanded extraordinarily high prices for their day. Cooper maintained contacts among Eastern art dealers and exhibited with New York’s Salmagundi Club in 1884; and his Western wildlife paintings in particular had a devoted following both nationwide and in Europe.
- Bolstering his national prominence and commercial success in the 1890s and early 1900s were Cooper’s touring exhibitions displaying a single, large and impressive allegorical or religious painting, such as Burning Arrow, The Precipice of Life, or his 13-foot-high Mount Calvary, all presented to the public with much fanfare in cities across the U.S.
- Three of Cooper’s paintings depicting Native American life were exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition, and he was commissioned to do two paintings for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Cooper’s Allegory of California was painted for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and is now in the collection of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.
- Cooper’s work graced the homes of the California aristocracy, including M.H. de Young, Mrs. Charles Crocker, and Mrs. Leland Stanford, who notably commissioned Cooper to paint a still life study documenting her large collection of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. The painting, Mrs. Stanford’s Jewel Collection (1898), is now owned by Stanford University, and in 2015 it was displayed in a survey exhibition “Astley D.M. Cooper and Mrs. Stanford’s Jewels” at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center.
- After a long battle with tuberculosis, A.D.M. Cooper passed away in San Jose, California in 1924.
- The first retrospective exhibition of Cooper’s work was held at the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA in 1976; and in 1996 a collection of Cooper’s paintings was displayed at Paul Bingham’s Fairmont Hotel gallery in San Jose. Among California exhibitions including Cooper’s work are Seabright Art Gallery, Santa Cruz (1925); Zieniewicz Art Gallery, San Francisco (1959); Barnsdall Park Municipal Gallery, Los Angeles (1960); Metcalf Galleries, Pasadena (1965); Swanson Art Gallery, San Francisco (1974); Alder Creek Gallery, Folsom (1978); and Montgomery Gallery, San Francisco (1986); and elsewhere at Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY (2016) and Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT (2017).
- Cooper’s paintings are in the collections of the History Park, San Jose; the American Victorian Museum, Nevada City, CA; and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.
Selection of Works by this Artist
Bibliographic references are available upon request.