THE QUARRIES OF TOURAH, CAIRO
Signed l.l., titled l.r.
Pencil on prepared paper [Penny's patent 'metallic paper']
12.5 x 20cm
The present work dates from Cooke's trip to Egypt in 1874, during which time he made numerous sketches of the scenes he witnessed from the River Nile on this distinctive and unusual prepared paper, known as Penny's 'Metallic Paper'. Many of these drawings can now be found in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Academy. These drawings provided much of the material for Cooke's published sketchbook, titled Leaves from my Sketchbook, which comprised two volumes of drawings from throughout his career. Volume II held the Egyptian tour's sketches, and the present work was engraved for this volume, under the title The Dahabieh Passing a Sandbank off Tourah. Another drawing for the subject, rendered slightly more softly and with several changes to the details (for example the number of birds to the lower right) (1).
This drawing of an Egyptian 'dahabieh' (or houseboat) on the Nile is typical of the several thousand finely detailed sketches which Cooke drew on his travels. Upon his return to England, Cooke would take the sketchbooks apart and file his drawings in order of subject for easy personal reference.
Edward Cooke visited Egypt in the winter of 1873-4, travelling first to Brindisi where he boarded the Simla steamer. On the way he met John Fowler and Richard Owen and travelled with them for part of the way. All three stayed in Alexandria in early January before Cooke set off down the Nile on a dahabieh(or houseboat) named the Queen Victoria, visiting Feshan, Sohag, Luxor, Karnak, Aswan and various other sites on the way. Cooke made numerous sketches as the boat sailed down the river, and his drawings demonstrate his particular interests in botany and in the many types of sailing vessels to be found on the Nile. According to John Munday, Cooke's 'pencil studies of Egyptian subjects… show his careful assembly of references, the architecture, palm trees, grouping of figures, camels, boats and landscape, are of course drawn with possible future needs in mind. He worked at his oil sketches in uncomfortable conditions and his scientific interests dictated some of the subjects”.
In the second edition of Cooke’s Leaves from my Sketchbook (London, 1877) Cooke published sixteen plates of Egyptian scenes and, in the commentary expressed great admiration for the elegance of the Egyptian dahabieh when he wrote 'a steamer is not a beautiful object anywhere, but...a Nile boat, ... no matter how shabby, always looks well by virtue of the graceful shaped sail'. However, despite the fairly high quality of the plates, Cooke was dissatisfied with the reproductions of his drawings, complaining in a letter that the book had been printed and published 'without my being consulted as to the Plates or the Descriptions - all horribly bad and so black and coarse and vulgar'.
Edward William Cooke was born in London, the son of the well-established engraver George Cooke and nephew of the engraver William Bernard Cooke. Edward was therefore raised in the company of artists and distinguished himself from an early age, displaying a preference for marine scenes early on in his career. His Shipping and Craft, a series of plates showing maritime views, was published when the artist was just 18.
Cooke received guidance from a number of his family's artistic friends, including Clarkson Stanfield (of whom Cooke could be called a follower) and David Roberts. He painted in both oils and watercolours, exhibiting the former from 1835 at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Cooke was particularly enamoured of the Dutch marine artists of the 17th century, and visited Holland for the first time in 1837, returning frequently over the next 23 years. The artist was so loved by the Dutch that they dubbed him 'Van Kooke' - a badge of honour that the artist wore proudly to such an extent that many of his canvases were signed 'Kooke'.
Alongside his accomplishments in art, Cooke was a member of the Linnean Society, the Geological Society, the Zoological Society, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society.
(1) https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/the-dahabieh-passing-a-sandbank-off-tourah [last accessed 14/06/2021]