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Oil painting - Il Penseroso
  • Il Penseroso
    Cope, Charles West RA, born 1811 - died 1890
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Il Penseroso

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    1848 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cope, Charles West RA, born 1811 - died 1890 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case WE

Object Type
Oil paintings such as this with subjects taken from literature steadily replaced commissions for history paintings in the early 19th century. The public and most collectors of modern works started to prefer lighter and sometimes more sentimental themes.

Subjects Depicted
This painting is an illustration to John Milton's 1632 poem `Il Penseroso', an invocation to the goddess Melancholy, so that she might bring the poet a life of quiet study and meditation. `But hail, thou goddess, sage and holy, Hail, divinest Melancholy.' Like the poem, it is a companion to `L'Allegro', also described here.

A contemporary critic spoke of this painting as `The most profoundly sentimental figure that the artist has ever painted.'

Charles West Cope (1811-1890)was a landscape watercolourist as well as an oil painter. He was a friend of the collector John Sheepshanks who gave nine of Cope's works to the Museum. Nearly all his paintings were literary, biblical or historical subjects and domestic genre. He studied fresco painting in Italy and painted several frescos in the Palace of Westminster. Cope exhibited 134 works at the Royal Academy and in 1870 was appointed examiner in painting at the South Kensington Schools of Art, the forerunner of the Royal College of Art.

Physical description

Oil painting

Place of Origin

Britain (painted)


1848 (made)


Cope, Charles West RA, born 1811 - died 1890 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'C W Cope/1848'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right


Height: 71.1 cm, Width: 46.4 cm, Depth: 5 cm, Height: 95 cm framed, Width: 70 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857. By Charles West Cope RA (born in Leeds, 1811, died in London, 1890)

Exhibited at the Royal Academy 1848

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Il Penseroso' by Charles West Cope. Great Britain, 1848.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Parkinson, R., Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 49-50

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Il Penseroso' was the poet Milton's celebration of the pleasures of melancholy solitude, in contrast to the gregarious pleasures celebrated in his companion poem 'L'Allegro'. Contemporary critics admired these two paintings by Charles West Cope for their strong colours and considered them 'profoundly sentimental', a term of high approval at the time. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Signed and dated 1848


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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