This site summarizes the life and works of Nelson Cook and provides glimpses into the lives of the men, women, and children he painted. Although included with renowned artists John Singleton Copley and Thomas Cole in at least one modern exhibition (at Utica, New York's Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in 1960), Nelson Cook has never been placed in the very first rank of American artists by critics or historians. Yet Cook made a valuable contribution to mid-19th century American portraiture. He was a prolific painter of locally prominent men and women and their families in the United States and Canada, and as his skills matured he painted with a style that captured the true spirit of his "sitters." Today a large number of museums, art institutions, historical societies and collections in North America hold at least one of his paintings, testimony to the quality, timelessness, and historical significance of Nelson Cook's portraits.
In the absence of a known historical monograph or other summary of Cook's life, we have made every effort to be thorough and accurate with the information provided here, making use of letters and innumerable Internet resources as well as secondary historical material. Nevertheless, we make no guarantee that the information included here is fully accurate -- we know it is incomplete.
We have identified over 170 of Cook's portraits, although it is a certainty that more exist, probably in private collections. As with the facts of Cook's life, we have made thoroughness and accuracy our goal in listing his works, but it is possible that we have included two mentions of the same "unidentified" sitter, named a subject incorrectly, or included misinformation in the brief biographies of portrait subjects (when in doubt we have made a ? notation). We are very grateful to the many museum curators, reference librarians, and research volunteers who have generously provided information on Cook and his sitters; those institutions providing information and/or known to have at least one Cook portrait in their collections are listed under resources.
We invite any information or comments you might have regarding Nelson Cook and/or his sitters; please contact us.
Nelson Cook, ca 1853
Photo courtesy of H. A. Eastman
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