An English angel
Detail from St Francis of Assisi and the Heavenly Melody, oil on canvas, 1904
Frank Cadogan Cowper, RA (1877-1958)
Courtesy of the Fine Art Society Ltd, London
Not towering, blazing or even flying, but up in a tree like a child.
The son of a pioneer of coastal cruising in yachts, Cadogan Cowper was born in Wicken Rectory, Northamptonshire. He studied at the St John's Wood School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools from 1897 to 1902 then spent six months in Edwin Austin Abbey's studio and travelled to Italy. He began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1899. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, he carried their ideas into the 20th century.
Chesterton's biography of St Francis, published in 1922, is a beauty. In Cowper's painting, Francis is standing below the tree, looking up at the listening bird and the angel. In Chesteron's biography of Francis -
A bird went by him like an arrow; something with a story and a purpose, though it was a purpose of life and not a purpose of death. A bush could stop him like a brigand; and indeed he was as ready to welcome the brigand as the bush.
. . .He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation.