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Samuel Cousins was born in Exeter  9 May 1801 and baptised at the church of St. Mary Steps 24 May 1801. He was the second child of John and Mary Cousins. Samuel's brothers and sisters were John, George, Henry, Matthew, Mary Ann, Louisa and Susanna. Their father was a respectable tailor and was able to send Samuel to the Episcopal School in Exeter for a free education. Samuel never married. He died in London two days before his 86th birthday on 7 May 1887.

The article below first appeared in 1907 as a piece of journalism. It is based on material collected together in the form of a memoir by Dr. George Pycroft, a surgeon and art lover who lived at Kenton, Devon.

The illustrations are taken from "Samuel Cousins" by Alfred Whitman, published in 1904.


"Samuel Cousins was born in Exeter on the 9th of May 1801. He was educated in the Exeter Episcopal School, and while there, at an early age showed a remarkable love for Art, for his habit was, as soon as the afternoon school was over, to run to gaze in the shop windows of Mr. Tucker, in which were usually displayed some fine engravings. One especially, by Sir William Beechey, made a deep impression upon the young aspirant for Art, and he used often to refer to it in after life as having had a great influence upon his choice of a profession and his subsequent career. His father was a tradesman, and Samuel Cousins first used his talents and his pencil in portraying the heads of his father's customers and friends. He executed these so admirably that in a short time his efforts became famous in the neighbourhood and, boy as he was, he received commissions to execute portraits (for which he only charged five shillings) of many of his neighbours, and by visitors at the Globe Inn, a famous Exeter hostelry. He also, at this time, copied engravings with his pencil, which were executed in Mr. Tucker's window and elsewhere.


Samuel Cousins, aged 13 - self portrait in pencil

Samuel Cousins aged 13

A self portrait in pencil


In the winter of 1811, or thereabouts, there occurred an extraordinary flood, which carried away Cowley Bridge. The boy made his way thither and sketched the ruins, producing a most remarkable and highly effective picture. Some of his early works are still in existence, and are highly prized by their possessors.


One day it chanced that a certain Captain Bagnall, a London gentleman, was passing through Exeter, and  his attention was directed towards some pencil drawings of young Cousins in the shop window of Mr. Edward Upham, then a bookseller in Exeter. He entered the shop, made enquiries and bought several of the drawings, which, to his surprise, were executed by a boy eleven years of age, and the untaught son of an Exeter tradesman. The accident brought the boy into notice, for Captain Bagnall sent the drawings to the Society of Arts, who awarded the young artist several prizes, including the silver medal of the Society. Mr. Samuel William Reynolds, the leading mezzotint engraver of that time, saw these drawings and was much struck with their fidelity, and the touch of genius which characterised them. He took the boy in hand and agreed to accept him as an apprentice without premium - the usual premium amounting to £300.


Lady Acland and her children

Lady Acland and her children

(Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of Killerton, Devon married Lydia Elizabeth Hoare, only daughter of Henry Hoare of Mitcham. Standing behind Lady Aacland, is their elder boy, also called Thomas Dyke Acland, who succeeded his father as 11th baronet. She has her arm around Arthur Henry Dyke Acland who added the name of Troyte after he succeeded to the estates of the Rev. Edward Berkeley Troyte.)


One of Mr. Cousin's earliest patrons was Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, who soon recognised his talent and became, moreover, his life-long friend. While studying in his profession with Mr. Reynolds, his general education was not neglected, the lad being placed in the care of Dr. North by Sir Thomas.


Cousin's master (Reynolds) soon discovered the lad's remarkable talent. In 1815, the boy executed a portrait of Edmund Keane which, at the time, was the "talk of the town" partly owing to its great fidelity as a likeness, and partly to the fact that it was executed at one sitting of a little more than half an hour.

Edmund Kean - a pencil drawing made by Samuel Cousins at the age of 14

Edmund Kean, the actor

A pencil drawing made by Samuel Cousins

at the age of 14

Mr Reynolds having occasion to visit the Earl of Ashburnham at his seat in Sussex, took Cousins with him, and the young artist was honoured with sittings by every member of the family. These drawings were executed in pencil on cardboard, and photographs of these portraits, executed sixty four years after the Drawings were made, were exhibited at the Exhibition at the Fine Art Society's Rooms in 1882.


Cousins served an apprenticeship of seven years with Reynolds, to their mutual satisfaction, at the end of which time he wanted to start on his own account; but his master offered to take him on as an assistant for four years at a salary of £250 per annum, which offer was supported by the influence of Sir Thomas Acland. Cousins consented, although he inwardly chafed at the restraint. About 1820 or 1821, Mr. Cousins came to Plymouth, where he remained some time, making copies of the Reynolds pictures in the collections at Saltram and Kitley. He also made many sketches of picturesque scenery in the neighbourhood. Then, in the year 1826, he visited Brussels and the field of Waterloo. This was the same year he engraved his first plate on his own account which was the portrait of Lady Acland and her children. (see above.)


A Midsummer Night's Dream, after Edwin Landseer

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Original painting by Sir Edwin Landseer


He was at times greatly disheartened and talked of giving up engraving and taking to miniature painting, because of the monotony, intense labour and solitude inseparable from the practice of engraving; but success in his line soon removed these thoughts from his mind. In November 1835, he was elected a member of the Royal Academy, a circumstance which gave him intense pride and pleasure. In 1838, he received a commission to engrave a portrait of Her Majesty (Queen Victoria), in her Coronation Robes, after Alfred Chalon. The Queen gave him a sitting in Buckingham Palace in order that he might touch up his plate, and the result was highly satisfactory. He also executed other notable pictures, including "The Queen receiving the Sacrament at Her Coronation" which was published in 1842 and for which he received 2,500 guineas.


In the year 1854, he was employed by Napoleon III to engrave a full-length portrait of himself, after Winterhalter. with which the Emperor was so much pleased that he sent the artist the Order of the Legion of Honour. The following year, a still greater honour was conferred upon him, being elected a Royal Academician: the first English engraver who had obtained such a distinction. His greatest work, after Sir Edward Landseer's picture "The Midsummer Night's Dream", was published in 1857.


In the year 1872, Mr. Cousins presented to the nation, through the medium of the print department of the British Museum, an almost complete collection of his plates. He also presented a small set to the Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. In 1874, when he was 73 years of age, he determined to retire from the active practice of his profession, but his publishers would not hear of it, and he was induced by promises of high remuneration to continue a few years longer. He was commissioned to engrave Gainsborough's famous picture of the Duchess of Devonshire, for which Messrs Agnew agreed to give him the extraordinary price of 1,500 guineas; but the picture was stolen and the work was never carried out.


Samuel Cousins R.A. aged 83 - his last etching

Samuel Cousins R. A. aged 83

Cousin's final work as an engraver.

Edwin Long painted Samuel Cousin's portrait in 1883.


His last work was his own portrait from a painting by Edwin Longsden Long R. A. This was painted in 1883 and exhibited, being purchased by Lady Burdett-Coutts; and Cousins, in his 83rd year, set to work to engrave it. This portrait is declared to be a perfect resemblance of the old artist, and it is remarkable as the work of a man who for more than 70 years had worked hard in his profession. About the same time, Mr. Cousins placed the sum of £15,000 at the disposal of the trustees of the Royal Academy by deed of gift; the interest on this to be applied to furnish annuities, not exceeding £80 each, to artists of merit, who, from adverse circumstances may have been unable to provide a competence for their declining years. This noble gift produces £750 per annum, or nine annuities of £80 each. In the early part of the year 1887, his health began to decline, and he died on the 7th of May in that year. Mr. Cousins, amongst other benefactions, left £5000 to the Artists' Orphan Fund and £1000 to the Artists' Benevolent Fund. He was never married."



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