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Walter Ignatius Cox (1867-1930), Painter : Husband of Lavinia Carson Millett (1869-1933)

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Introduction

 

Lavinia Carson Millett was born on 9 April 1869 at Woolston, Hampshire, the sixth child of James Halse Millett (1835-1890) and Harriet Carnell (1846-1903), who married on 28 March 1862 at St James, Westminster, London.  Her father worked for the Peninsular and Oriental Line for a number of years, and emigrated to New Zealand about 1880 and to Australia about 1884.  Her grandparents were John Nicholas Richards Millett (1807-1885) who was a solicitor in Penzance, and Mary Ley (1804-1888), who married on 15 May 1830 at St George’s, Hanover Square, London;  they  lived at Bosavern, St Just-in-Penwith, Cornwall.  Lavinia married twice:  to William Henry Bocher (1845-1927) on 27 June 1887 at Sydney, New South Wales, and to Walter Ignatius Cox in 1897 at Wandsworth, Surrey.

 

Walter was born on 4 May 1867 at Broxwood, Herefordshire, the son of Richard Snead Cox (1820-1899) and Maria Teresa Weld (1828-1886), who married on 24 November 1853 at Clitheroe, Lancashire.  Richard was a country gentleman and magistrate, and for 25 years held a commission in the Herefordshire Militia, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

 

Walter and Lavinia emigrated to San Francisco, California in 1904, where Walter continued work as a painter and portrait artist.  They later moved to New York.  Walter died on 30 April 1930 at Alexandria, Virginia.  Lavina, who had returned to London about 1924, died on 20 September 1933 at Margate, Kent.

Biography


Walter Ignatius Cox (1867-1930) was an English-born California painter who seems to have thus far escaped scholarly notice.  While he painted the garden scenes and domesticated landscapes that are more frequently seen today, during his lifetime he was primarily known for his formal portraits.  His tranquil landscapes show an awareness of Impressionism and a brighter palette, but maintain a solid sense of construction that is academic in origin.  His landscapes, usually of gardens, front porches, parks and scenes of al fresco dining, have an innocent, almost naïve quality.

 

Cox was born in Broxwood Court, Herefordshire in England, on May 4, 1867 to Richard Snead Cox (1820-1899) and Maria Teresa Weld Cox (1828-1886).  He came from an old English family who were descendants of the Plantagenet Kings.  The Cox family was part of the Catholic minority and young Walter was educated at St. Gregory’s College, a Catholic boarding school in Somerset, in Southwest England.  Because of his artistic talent, after completing his secondary education he moved to Paris.  In the French capital he studied at the private Académie Julian under the grand history painters Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911), as well as the titan of the French Academy, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).

 

After the completion of his studies, Cox established himself as portrait painter in London, opening a studio in fashionable Chelsea.  A number of prominent British subjects sat for him, including Cardinal Herbert Alfred Vaughn of London (1832-1903), who may have preferred a painter with a Catholic background.  For the remainder of his career Cox would maintain good relations with the Catholic hierarchy, and he painted the official portraits of a number of Archbishops and Cardinals.

 

Cox married Lavinia Carson Millett (1869-1933) of Hampshire in 1897.  The couple emigrated to the United States in 1904, settling in San Francisco, where Cox opened a portrait studio on Van Ness Avenue.  He and his wife resided on Jackson Street.  In San Francisco he became part of the downtown milieu of bohemian artists and writers.  He also established a relationship with the Catholic Church, and painted Archbishop Patrick William Riordan (1841-1914) and Archbishop George Montgomery (1847-1907), who came to the aid of the city and rebuilt the local parishes after the San Francisco Earthquake.

 

Cox traveled to Victoria, British Columbia in 1905, where he painted Archbishop Bertram Orth (in office 1903-1908) and a number of judges and other public officials.  His San Francisco studio was frequently in the papers and he was well known for painting fashionable women.  He completed society portraits of Mrs. Maria Inez Shorb White (1868-1933) of San Gabriel, Miss Sarah Bell Collier and Miss Betsy Angus (later Mrs. St. George Holden) of San Francisco and other members of California’s élite who were well known in those days.

 

Because of his French academic training, Cox had the ambitions to be a “history painter” like his instructors at the Académie Julian.  In Paris and London he had also come under the spell of the Orientalist movement, and he painted compositions drawn from biblical history.  According to contemporary accounts, soon after his arrival he began working on an ambitious painting of the notables of San Francisco that was nine feet high by twelve feet wide, with hundreds of figures.  Another work in progress was a scene of the Crucifixion of Christ, a grand history painting in the French manner, with the dramatic event depicted at the moment when darkness enveloped Jerusalem.  Cox also painted a large composition of Gregory the Great in the Roman slave market.

 

Unfortunately, just as Cox was establishing himself in the Bay Area, the 1906 earthquake struck, followed by the conflagration, and like most of the other residents he lost almost everything, including the major works described above.  His small cottage, located on Sacramento Street, near the intersection of Franklin and Van Ness, was one of the last to be consumed by the out-of-control fire.  The loss of an artist’s production meant that not only was his inventory gone, but also his creative history, his sketches, studies, and sample portraits.  The Oakland Tribune dramatized the situation of the artists and sculptors for its readers, who had watched the catastrophe from across the bay with horror:

 

A palace razed to the ground may be reconstructed within a few months.  An immense emporium with its contents may be utterly effaced, but a thousand hands and machines without number, within a comparatively short time can rebuild the one more beautifully and restock the other as it never had been stocked before.

 

Such however is not a possibility in the world of art.  The studios of San Francisco which were destroyed – and they were all laid in common ruin – represented the work of years not only of the owners, but also of the kindred souls possessed of genius and the restoration of them and their contents can be accomplished only by hand.

 

After the disaster, some painters fled south to Carmel, while others, like Cox, crossed the water and set up new studios in the East Bay.  The portrait painter leased a new studio in the El Granada, at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph in Berkeley, and his wife set up their new living quarters in an adjacent apartment.  In Berkeley, the artist began painting portraits to replace those lost in the great earthquake and also opened art classes for local residents, but Cox and his wife soon returned to San Francisco, establishing another studio on Van Ness Avenue.

 

Walter and Lavinia Cox were frequently in the society pages of the San Francisco and East Bay newspapers.  The papers noted that the couple was dressed smartly at the opera or was seen at the Tea Room of the St. Francis Hotel, which was frequented by the “smart set.”  The painter was successful enough to have a summer studio in the Easton neighborhood of Burlingame, where he painted landscapes and attempted to take a break from his portrait commissions.  Cox concentrated on portraits during the fall and winter months so that he could make sketching trips during the spring and summer months.  He took trips to his native England and Scotland, bringing back watercolors and landscape studies which he sold to collectors in the Bay Area. Cox also made trips to Mexico, stopping in Los Angeles along the way, where he had portrait clients.

 

In 1912 Cox painted the famous novelist Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948), which resulted in a bounty of publicity for the artist.  The large portrait was reproduced in the San Francisco papers, exhibited in his studio and hung in the Tea Room of the St. Francis Hotel for a high society reception.  He completed a life-size portrait of the socialite Miss Hazel King and portraits of Miss Julia Langhorne, Mrs. Tom Williams and her daughters and William Ronaldson, all well-known social figures of the era.  Cox sold most of his work from his own well-appointed studio, but he also exhibited at Kilbey’s in San Francisco and had an exhibition at the Palace Hotel in 1914.

 

There is no record that Cox exhibited at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the San Francisco World’s Fair.  This may be because Cox was still considered a British painter and thus not eligible for inclusion, but it is probable that by the time of the exposition he and his wife had already left San Francisco for New York, where they lived for a number of years.  In the east, he continued painting portraits for the Catholic Church as well as of political figures.  His last studio was in the Washington D.C. suburb of Alexandria, where he did portraits of important Washingtonians.  Lavinia Cox, the painter’s wife, returned to England to care for an aunt in the 1920s and never returned to her husband in America, remaining there until she passed away in 1933.

 

Like many society painters, he was described as “genial and gentlemanly” and having the “faculty for making friends by his personality as well as creating admirers by his brush.”  Cox was known for achieving a good likeness and many of his commissions were for full-length portraits in the grand manner.  His upbringing and education gave him a scholarly air which gave his sitter’s confidence in his taste as well as his artistic ability.  Those who sat for portraits by Cox included President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) and former President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Howard Taft (1857-1930).

 

 

Source:  Morseburg, Jeffrey.  The San Francisco portraits of Walter Cox: California plein-air impressionism (2011).  [Reproduced by permission of the author, 23 April 2020]

Paintings

 

Click on image to enlarge painting


Arbor and Arches
Arbor and Arches

Back Porch
Back Porch

Below on Bonanza Creek
Below on Bonanza Creek

Bonanza Creek
Bonanza Creek

California Garden at Dusk
California Garden at Dusk

Double Self-Portrait
Double Self-Portrait

Farmer with Oxen Team and Harrow
Farmer with Oxen Team and Harrow

Farming by the Sea
Farming by the Sea

Formal Garden at Dusk
Formal Garden at Dusk

Formal Garden at Dusk (2)
Formal Garden at Dusk (2)

Formal Garden at Dusk (3)
Formal Garden at Dusk (3)

The Fountain
The Fountain

The Front Porch
The Front Porch

Garden by the House
Garden by the House

Haystacks at Dusk, the Mountains Beyond
Haystacks at Dusk, the Mountains Beyond

Hodges Garden, East Hampton, Long Island
Hodges Garden, East Hampton, Long Island

In the Shade
In the Shade

Interior of a Library
Interior of a Library

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Lady under a Tree
Lady under a Tree

Landscape with Geese by a Pond
Landscape with Geese by a Pond

Landscape with Water
Landscape with Water

Looking Toward Canaan
Looking Toward Canaan

The Masquerade Ball
The Masquerade Ball

Oak Trees
Oak Trees

On the Rocks
On the Rocks

Outdoor Dining
Outdoor Dining

Porch Overlooking a Garden and Cats
Porch Overlooking a Garden and Cats

Portrait of a Girl
Portrait of a Gril

Portrait of a Woman in a Floral Gown
Portrait of a Woman in a Floral Gown

Portrait of a Young Girl
Portrait of a Young Girl

Portrait of a Young Girl Seated
Portrait of a Young Girl Seated

Portrait of an Elegant Lady
Portrait of an Elegant Lady

Portrait of Gertrude Atherton
Portrait of Gertrude Atherton

Portrait of Two Sisters
Portrait of Two Sisters

River Landscape with Forest
River Landscape with Forest

Sea Breeze
Sea Breeze

Seascape
Seascape

A Seated Gentleman
A Seated Gentleman

Self-Portrait with Paint Brush
Self-Portrait with Paint Brush

Stream, Canaan Road
Stream, Canaan Road

Surf and Sunset
Surf and Sunset

Unknown Title
Unknown Title

UnKnown Title (2)
Unknown Title (2)

Unknown Title (3)
Unknown Title (3)

Unknown Title (4)
Unknown Title (4)

View from a Garden
View from a Garden

Vue d'intérieur
Vue d'intérieur

Willotta Ranch, Suisin, California
Willotta Ranch, Suisin, California

Wine for Two
Wine for Two

Winter Moon
Winter Moon

 

Other Paintings

 

Bonanza Creek, Klondike

Bonanza Valley, Klondike

By the Sea

Church Interior

Flock of Seagulls at the Shore

A Formal Garden

Geese along Riverbank

Landscape with Footbridge and Spanish-Style Building

Old Tree in Woods

Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Little Girl on a Shetland Pony

Portrait of Archbishop Bertram Orth

Portrait of Archbishop George Thomas Montgomery

Portrait of Archbishop Patrick William Riordan

Portrait of Betsy Burton Angus

Portrait of Cardinal Herbert Alfred Henry Vaughn

Portrait of Dean Howard Lincoln Hodgkins

Portrait of Hazel King

Portrait of Julia Langhorne

Portrait of Lady Astor

Portrait of Maria Inez (Shorb) White

Portrait of Mrs Tom Williams and her daughters

Portrait of President Warren G. Harding

Portrait of President William Howard Taft

Portrait of Sarah Bell Collier

Portrait of the Artist

Portrait of William Ronaldson

Portraits of several European princes

Reveries

Stagecoach Ride

View Down the Trellised Walk

 

 

 

28 April 2020