John Sell Cotman

Mont Saint-Michel – The Artists – Cotman, John Sell

This page forms part of a series of pages dedicated to the many artists who worked in Mont Saint-Michel. A full list of all the artists with a link to their works can be found at the bottom of this page.

John Cotman
John Cotman

Movement(s): –

John Sell Cotman (1782 – 1842) was a British artist and watercolorist, known for his contributions to the English Romantic movement.

Born in Norwich, the son of a silk merchant and lace dealer, Cotman was educated at the Norwich Grammar School. He showed an early talent for art. It was intended that he followed his father into the family business but, intent on a career in art, he moved to London in 1798, where he met artists such as J. M. W. Turner, Peter de Wint and Thomas Girtin, whose sketching club he joined, and whom he travelled with to Wales and Surrey.

Cotman was trained as an architect but eventually became known for his watercolors and etchings, which captured the rugged beauty of the British countryside.

Cotman’s watercolors are characterized by their loose, spontaneous brushwork and their ability to convey a sense of atmosphere and mood. He was particularly interested in the interplay between light and shadow, and his paintings often feature dramatic contrasts between dark and light areas. He was also a skilled etcher, and his etchings of landscapes and architectural subjects are highly regarded for their technical virtuosity and atmospheric qualities.

In addition to his work as an artist, Cotman was also an influential teacher and writer on art. He wrote several books on watercolor technique, including “An Account of the Architecture, Paintings and other Curiosities in Norfolk and Suffolk” (1819) and “An Essay on the Principles of Landscape Painting in Watercolours” (1824). He taught watercolor painting at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and had a significant impact on the development of watercolor as a medium in Britain.

Cotman’s work is considered to be among the finest examples of English Romantic landscape painting, and his legacy has continued to inspire artists and art lovers alike. Today, his works can be found in major collections around the world, including the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

In 1834 his eldest son Miles Edmund remained in Norwich to work as an art teacher, when the rest of the Cotman family moved to London upon the appointment of John Sell Cotman as a Professor of Drawing at King’s College. A year after his move to London, Mile Edmund himself moved to London, becoming his father’s assistant after his brother John Joseph moved back to Norwich. His sons Miles Edmund and John Joseph Cotman later became painters of note. Miles Edmund succeeded his father as drawing master at King’s College in 1843.

Click here to read Cotman’s full bio on Wikipedia.

NOTE: Click on any image below for a bigger version (no new window will open).

NOTE: A black box like this one, means that there is an explanation text about today’s situation of the painting above it.
NOTE: Click on this photo icon anywhere below a painting to see a photo of what the area looks like today.

NOTE: A blue box like this one, means there is an explanation or a note.

1820 - John Sell Cotman - The Baron's Hall, Mont Saint-Michel
1820 – John Sell Cotman – The Baron’s Hall, Mont Saint-Michel

NOTE: The Baron’s Hall is really called the Salle des Chevaliers (Knights Hall), but was never used by the Knights defending the island., It was reputed to have been used by the monks to copy manuscripts.

1821 - John Sell Cotman - Mont Saint-Michel
1821 – John Sell Cotman – Mont Saint-Michel

TODAY: Mont Saint-Michel was at times an island, at times attached to the mainland via road that was usually wet (depending on the tide). Today, there is a road built onto a dike that leads to the island and can be taken at any time during the day.

John Cotman painted in several places in France (a link “” to his works in a specific city will appear below when published) :

The Mont Saint-Michel is a very impressive village, used as backdrop for many artists travelling in the region. Here are the artists that we have found that worked in the area (a link “⇠” will appear next to an artist name when we published their works of art. A “*” next to a name indicates that the artist did NOT work in Mont Saint-Michel itself, but closeby).

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Today: Salle des Chevaliers (Knights Hall)
Today: Salle des Chevaliers (Knights Hall)
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Today: A view from a distance
Today: A view from a distance
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