“One of the Family” by F.G. Cotman

Summer 1978, driving hack in Vancouver between terms at Langara. I opened a throwaway restaurant guide called unoriginally, “Restaurant Guide”. Stuck above the listings for pizza and perogies was a low-quality b&w repro of a painting of a family with a horse at dinner. No identification, no clue where the image came from (they didn’t know at Restaurant Guide, either). Thus began my obsession with tracking this thing down.

Years later, after poring over many art books in public libraries I found that the painting is “One of the Family” painted by Frederick George Cotman, a British painter. I couldn’t find any decent reproductions in books. I set this quest aside for a few decades.

“Cotman painted this romantic scene of rustic domestic life at the Black Boy Inn at Hurley on Thames. It shows a farmer (posed by the inn keeper) returning home for his meal, while his horse leans through the doorway to be fed by the farmer’s wife.”

Fast forward to today. I now know the painting is on display at the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool and is much larger than I expected [102.6 x 170.2cm/40 x 67 in]. The online images I’ve found are quite revealing of a sensitivity and delicacy of execution I couldn’t see in the RG halftone. When I eventually get to Liverpool (it’s on my bucket list) I won’t be seeking out the Beatles origins but rather Cotman’s work that has fascinated me for so long.

[Cotman’s] picture, “One of the Family,” is a popular example of his realistic manner and shows accomplishment in grouping and lighting. The human interest, the carefully observed poses and character, the contrast of youth and age, the details of the table, shimmering in light from the door and win­dow, the well-drawn horse and dog, are evidence of a quite remarkable skill.

(The World’s Greatest Paintings, 1934)

“Go anywhere in England where there are natural, wholesome, contented and really nice English people; and what do you always find? That the stables are the real center of the household.”

—Bernard Shaw, “Heartbreak House,” Act Three.