Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Favorite Bible Artist #5

Bible Pictures
Harold Copping 1863-1932
Harold Copping has always been one of my favorite Bible artists. The 'American Art Archives' have him down as American, but he was in fact British. Born in 1863, Copping studied at the Royal Academy Schools in London, (the oldest Art school in the U.K.), and won a Landseer scholarship enabling him to visit Paris. He became a well travelled, and an accomplished illustrator, settling eventually in Kent in southern England. During his lifetime Copping illustrated many classical books from Charles Dickens to Shakespeare, but he is best remembered for his Bible illustrations.

Like William Hole and Frank Hampson, Copping traveled to Palestine in order to achieve authenticity in his Bible pictures. It is the realism I like about coppings watercolors, the great accuracy in the clothing detail, and of course his superb figure work! Coppings first illustrated Bible later became known as 'The Copping Bible' (1910). This was a best seller and led to many more Bible commissions.

Copping had strong connections with the missionary societies of his day, especially the 'London Missionary Society' (LMS) who commissioned him to produce Bible pictures for them. Coppings Bible pictures were put onto lantern slides and were used by missionaries in remote areas around the world, in much the same way as our pictures are being used today! Coppings pictures were also widely reproduced by missionary societies as posters, tracts and as magazine illustrations.

Bible Pictures
Probably the most famous of Coppings Bible pictures was 'The Hope of the World' (1915). This depicts Jesus sat with a group of children from different continents. Dr Sandy Brewer writes "The Hope of the World, painted by Harold Copping for the London Missionary Society in 1915, is arguably the most popular picture of Jesus produced in Britain in the twentieth century. It was an iconic image in the Sunday school movement between 1915 and 1960".
There's a fascinating article, (written by Dr Sandy Brewer), about the history of this painting and the big part it played in the early Sunday school movement. Read it here.

Harold Copping is one of the few artists along with William Hole whose Nativity scenes correctly show the wise men visiting the infant Jesus in a house as opposed to a stable. (See the 'Nazareth or Egypt?' post). In a similar way to Cicely Mary Barker, Copping manages to capture a serene wonder in the faces of those witnessing Biblical events.

Bible Pictures
Additional information about Copping gleaned from his biography. Added on 26.01.08

Harold Copping worked in a similar way to Norman Rockwell who used family, friends and neighbors as models in his paintings. Both artists kept a room of costumes and props for the models to use, Bible costumes in Coppings case.
In many of his Bible paintings, one of his wife's stripy tea towels makes a regular appearance on the heads of various Bible characters!

Copping was under contract to the Religious Tract Society (RTS) to produce 12 religious paintings a year which he did. This was a three yearly contract that was continually renewed up until the time of his death. He was paid £50 for each painting and, under the terms of the contract, was not allowed to paint religious paintings for anyone else. Had Copping opted to receive royalties on his pictures, he would have been a very rich man, but the regular work that this contract gave him made him envied by other freelance artists!

The more I see of Coppings work, the more I marvel that he is not better known! He had an incredible talent from a very early age and, in my opinion, should be included amongst the greatest painters of our time. It may well have been his decision to concentrate on Bible art that launched him into obscurity! Bible art, even in Coppings day, did not have the credibility that it once had.

Update: April 2008
A Copping Bible sold recently on Ebay for £42.00. I'm still after one!

Related posts:
Finding Harold Copping

Favorite Bible Artist #1 Frank Hampson
Favorite Bible Artist #2 Nestor Redondo
Favorite Bible Artist #3 Clive Uptton
Favorite Bible Artist #4 Cicely Mary Barker
Favorite Bible Artist #6 Carl Heinrich Bloch
Favorite Bible Artist #7 William Hole


Paul Green said...

"Copping's painting 'The Hope of the World' (1914), now lost, showing Jesus Christ talking to a group of children from different continents, was one of the best-known and best-loved paintings in the world. It was not approved of by everyone, however, as the African child was set slightly apart from the others, and whereas the Asian, Australasian, American and European children were shown in their national dress, the African boy was naked."

I have to agree with this criticism of Copping's illustration Graham. Not only is the African boy's head shown from the reverse he is also depicted in a stereotypical "naked native" pose. This type of approach comes from a period when the British Empire still had influence and Africans were seen as subjects of countries such as Britain, France and Belgium.
Jesus could be seen as representing the "educated elite" who rule over their Empire. This illustration is as much a political statement as a spiritual one.

Paul Green said...

The Sandy Brewer article includes this reference to Copping's "Hope of the World" painting -

"Miss Margaret E. Sherwood of the American Baptists remarked that “we have all felt a decided need in this field” and noted that Copping’s picture had been unsatisfactory for several reasons. In a subsequent letter she explained why:
I think all children’s workers have wished there could be some other pictures similar to this “Hope of the World” that could be used in teaching world friendship. As it stands now, this is almost the only one in the field. The main objections I have heard expressed regarding the
Copping picture deal with the little black boy in front of the group. I believe in the original he has no clothes at all, although in some adaptations he has been given a few to help preserve his dignity, and there have been comments on the part of the children as to why he should seem to be different from the rest. Then again he seems to be quite outside the circle of the other four, and this tends to make a little colored child wonder why he should be treated so differently from the others."

Paul Green said...

It's interesting to note that criticism of Copping's depiction of the African child may have led to a commission a few years later in which an African child is being healed. The Wellcome Library website has this description of the painting which they have in their collection -
"It may have been to compensate for this that the London Missionary Society commissioned Copping in 1916 to paint what is now the Wellcome Library picture, which was known as 'The Healer' and is unambiguously set in Africa. An idealised white missionary, guided by Christ standing behind him, applies Western medical knowledge to the healing of a sick African child. The missionary has a medicine chest identical in type to the Tabloid medicine chests that the firm of Burroughs Wellcome made for explorers and missionaries. In the foreground is a horn used in African medicine for cupping, here significantly discarded. The missionary seems to be modelled on the explorer Henry Morton Stanley."

Paul Green said...

This is the link to the Wellcome Library site and a picture of "The Healer" by Copping.

Bible artist said...

I thought you'd find it an interesting article Paul!

I've been in email contact with Sandy Brewer. She is also in the process of writing articles about other Bible/Religious artists such as Tom Curr, Elsie Anna Wood, Margaret Tarrant & Cicely Mary Barker, which I think are all from a similar era.

Dr Brewer says that she will be happy to share information and images with the Bible illustration blog as her work progresses. I know very little about the Bible art of Tom Curr, Elsie Anna Wood & Margaret Tarrant, so I look forward to that.

About your comment Paul that "Copping's painting 'The Hope of the World' is as much of a political statement as a spiritual one. I'm not convinced that Copping himself would have read as much into his picture as others have since.

I tend to build a picture around the references I have! Copping may have done the same. Unaware that his picture would offend anyone!

Paul Green said...

Copping was obviously influenced by the times he lived in - as we all are. This painting may not have been intentional in its depiction of the African boy and as you rightly say may have been based on reference material he had available at the time. But there is racial stereotyping at work here - even on a subconcious level. And if this pose was taken from other sources then they are also guilty of reducing an African to a naked native type.

Paul Green said...

We must be aware that Africans and black people in general were treated as sub-human in the media at the time of Copping's painting.
A 1912 edition of the British comic paper "Comic Cuts" represented a large group of black entertainers with the phrase "white-eyed nigger" - this was a publication aimed at children. So you can see the cultural vacuum Copping was dealing with at the time.

Dr. Brewer's work sounds very interesting. I look forward to reading her articles.

Bible artist said...

The following comment was sent to me by Dr Sandy Brewer:

Hi Graham,
Thank you for forwarding Paul G's comments. While generally in agreement with him I would have to add 'yes...but...' It is all too easy with the benefit of hindsight to reflect on historical documents such as this and damn the creators for their implicit imperial is if not racist assumptions. But the problem is that elites are also class-based and for working class children such pictures opened up the opportunity to be the givers rather than receivers of charity and to start the long process of, while 'acting local, thinking global.' The campaigns of Oxfam, Blue Peter, Live Aid etc have all played with such ideas - however unpalatable these might be to informed people in Europe and the US, and have saved lives and livelihoods. To paraphrase Brecht 'bread before morals'.

On the specific matter of the African boy in Copping's Hope of the World, this was always an uncomfortable depiction for the LMS as witnessed by subsequent reworkings of the image which first added a chord around his waist, later a loincloth and finally a pair of shorts. The outdated pigtail (or cue as it was then known), of the Chinese boy was also a stereotype included in the dressing up box fantasy which was the Hope of the World, this too was later to be painted out and his tunic and trousers replaced with the more modern dungarees. The Indian girl and the South Sea Islander were never changed, but they too are visual stereotypes but they tend not to get remarked upon. I think a lot of the problem nowadays is guilt - guilt about Britain's role in slavery, about its treatment of 'colonial subjects' but as the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu has said 'Britain needs to free itself from its colonial guilt' if it is to help Africa in the present.

There is much more to be written on the subject and I have recently given a conference paper on the recurring motif of the united colours of world citizenship and the controversies and ideological problems such imagery provokes. But the last word should go to Harold Copping. He was an artist who drew from life and many of the villagers of Shoreham modelled for the illustrations in the 'Copping Bible'. It was the sons and daughters of his neighbours in Shoreham in Kent who modelled for the Hope of the World although he always hired a professional model from London for the figure of Jesus to avoid any rivalries in the village). Prior to painting this picture he had attempted to paint an African without a model, and according to a conversation I had many years ago with Copping's biographer Ken Wilson, he was very unhappy with the face. In the Hope of the World he had no black child to draw so he avoided the problem by showing him from the back. If you look closely at his other painting for the LMS, The Healer, you can see evidence of this failing.
Hope this is useful to the discussion.
Best wishes,

Paul Green said...

Thanks for posting Dr. Brewer's comments Graham. They provide a fascinating backdrop to the creation of "The Hope of the World".
It's interesting to note Copping could afford to hire a professional model for Jesus. Something an average artist's budget won't allow as we both know! :))

Horseman said...

Not to offend the people’s sensibilities, but something does not sit well here. It seems that this painting “The Hope of the World” by Copping was an accurate portrayal for his time. The painting was a statement about Christ and how He is for EVERYONE, even the naked African boy – and that boy was depicted in a manner that was defined by Copping’s society and the world of that time, not Copping himself! Input, output. I think this idea has already been shared here. And about this “colonial guilt”, how am I (as a Southern American) to feel about the defeat of the Native-American and slavery? And your (our) issue of British, Spanish, French, German, etc. Imperialism? The Crusades? The spread of Christendom by way of the sword? The violent execution of the Messiah? The Babylonian captivity and Assyrian exile? In Africa, Egypt’s enslavement of God’s people and their subsequent violent Exodus? The SPAN OF CASUALTIES of the covenant between God and Abraham? The Deluge?

This guilt and criticism are self-righteous, as if to say that the critics are above doing such evil. (I wonder if it was this very spirit that contributed to the failure of the Children of Israel written about in the Old Testament.) Yet, the critics themselves are fat from eating of the spoils of war. Under a different set of circumstances, the critic himself would wield a sword. Is the will of God accomplished in these things that I mention in the above paragraph? As Christians, we must answer “yes”, at least to some of the questions. This is how it will be… until the Messiah returns.

I get tired of the overly apologetic winners with their partially blinded self-indulgent social commentaries. Now, I am not talking about anybody here on a personal level. I am more addressing that collective perspective.

Artists depict things. Input, output.


Paul Green said...

Why is criticism of this painting self righteous? By that standard if I criticized slavery I would be self righteous because the slave owners were only acting in a manner "defined by their society".
Social commentary is not self indulgent when it highlights injustices. I am not condemning Copping but criticizing the British Empire mentality his painting is influenced by. Even the people of his own time criticized his painting and he reworked subsequent editions.
I know the purpose of this painting was to show Jesus accepts everyone who comes to him, but having the African boy sitting on his naked backside in the grass has to be seen as offensive to Africans. Imagine if this was a white naked child (of the age depicted) in the grass. Wouldn't you find that offensive? If my commentary is "self indulgent" and "partially blinded" then so be it.

Bible artist said...

On a lighter note............
Yes Paul, it was interesting that Copping could afford to hire a professional model. I also found it interesting that he used local villagers as models too. I seem to remember that Norman Rockwell did the same thing.

I noticed that some of the figures in Copping pictures are in a very theatrical pose. Similar to what you might see in a still from a silent movie. Silent movies were around Coppings time. I wonder if some of those models were movie goers?

I suppose in a way, this was the next best thing to being a film extra!

Paul Green said...

Looking at Copping's other work Graham I tend to think his main influence was the stage. His "Hamlet" series of paintings appear to be based on stage performances of the period. I'm certain there was much pride taken by local villagers in being chosen for one of his paintings. He was obviously an accomplished artist of his time.

Paul Green said...

In my research of Bible artists I came across this passage today from "Christ and the Fine Arts" (1938) by Cynthia Pearl Maus in which she discusses Coppings's "The Hope of the World" -
Her comments are unbelievable by today's standards. I quote from pages 598-599 :

"I recall, years ago, having the Negro Superindent of Religious Education for the Disciples of Christ, ask me about this picture.. For a long time Patrick Henry Moss stood there studying this picture, and then he said,"Why is it, Miss Maus, that the only one of these children of the world who is not touching Jesus is the little black lad in the foreground?"
I thought for a long time, for up to that moment such a problem had not presented itself to my mind; and then I replied honestly: "I do not know, Patrick Henry, perhaps because your race is one of the most backward of all the races of children of men.."

Maus was teaching at a Negro Training School in connection with the International Convention of Negro churches at Nashville, Tennessee. Her comments to a black church leader are beyond belief but such was the moral climate of the time, Negroes were seen as "backward" in Maus' own words.

Paul Green said...

In her response Maus continued ..."But are you not glad that, at last, an artist has appeared with a sufficiently world-wide consciousness of what the "Go ye" of the Master meant to include even the most backward child-race in "The Hope of the World?"

We don't get to hear Patrick Henry Moss' reaction to these words.

Bible artist said...

Wow! That is bad Paul!
I still don't think that it was intentional on Coppings part, but as you say Paul, we are all influenced by the times we live in.

I still prefer the explanation that Copping had no black child models to paint from.

Bible artist said...

I expect that the reaction of Patrick Henry Moss was to 'turn the other cheek!'

Paul Green said...

No Graham. This woman didn't speak for Copping of course but her words are racist in the extreme. And she taught Negroes! Goodness knows how small she made them feel. I understand why the Black Civil Rights movement was so necessary in America. Without it black people would still be made to feel ashamed of their heritage and race. It really is despicable how "educated superior whites" behaved in the past.

Bible artist said...

Yes, I wonder how many Mormons are aware of their own church history in regard to this subject too. Anyone who was around during the 60's might remember the civil rights demonstrations held outside Mormon churches due to the fact that black people were not allowed to hold office in the church.

This doctrine was changed due to public pressure, but not until 1978!
I read recently that the Mormon church still teaches that "As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a black skin; he became the father of the Negroes" There's a whole shocking chapter about this in 'Mormonism, a Gold Plated Religion' by Mike & Ann Thomas. I believe that this whole subject has been hushed up in recent years.

sandy b said...

this is a response to earlier comments regarding the influence of the stage and silent films on the Bible illustrations of Harold Copping. I agree with Paul G and yourself that this is so, and there is evidence to support the influence of the theatre. Copping was an active member of the amateur dramatic society in his village (Shoreham, Kent). In an exchange of emails with one of his surviving relatives he too expressed the view that there was something of a 'filmic' quality to Copping's work which anticipated subsequent developments in the cinema. Sheila & Ken Wilson's biography 'Finding Harold Copping' is well worth a read. The authors have lived in Shoreham for many years and Ken in particular devoted many hours to documenting Copping's life at a time when some of the villagers who had modelled for the paintings were still alive.

Bible artist said...

Thanks for that Sandy. I was only looking today at Coppings painting of the Roman Centurion whos servant was healed, and both the Centurion and the girl in the background really look like 'silent movie' stars!

Paul Green said...

I recently came across illustrations by Harold Copping in a bound set of the Victorian magazine "Windsor". The magazine was well known for mystery, crime and adventure stories by famous authors such as Arthut Conan Doyle. The issues contain a number of Copping's black & white ink wash illustrations.
I've owned these bound magazine-books for over six years and only noticed the work by Copping a few weeks ago.

Bible artist said...

He did some nice pictures based on Hamlet too.

Relimom said...


I found your blog looking for Tom Curr. In a thrift shop I found a little painting that's called 'Follow me' that depicts Jesus and I was looking for more info.

Do you know whether dr. Brewer has made much progress yet?

Bible artist said...

Hello Relimom!
Dr Brewer informs me that her book on Tom Curr is still in progress and she will confirm publication details when available. We should have an update by December. Many thanks for your interest.

nick27 said...

I have a Copping Bible presented to my Mother as a prize in 1925 .
Beautifull watercolour illustrations
A few binding creases on the front , otherwise perfect .
Anyone interested ? I live near Chelmsford Essex UK

Bible artist said...

I'm still interested in one nick, if the price is right!
email me on
I'm in the UK also.

vivvers said...

I have a Copping bible, St James early 20c, gilt edge, very good condition. (Also has the original box, though that has fallen apart).

Rachel L said...

Rachel L
have just found the above fascinating chat while googling harold copping as we have an old, falling to bits " Scenes in the life of our lord" he illustrated. having removed squished spiders, web and general fluff of ages, put pages and looked at the pictures in a new light, have always found them rather saccharin and empire for my liking, like early ladybird books, they remain crisp, full of colour and have a sort of vibrancy. Jesus appears to be depicted as having a definate ginger tendency, very inculsive by today's standards then! but unusual in someone of middle eastern origins but then again he was the hired actor from London I gather from the above chat. He is always slightly out of focus/ ethereal/ other worldly looking, I guess this copping suggesting an appearance and avoiding too much personal or identifiable detail. Of course photographers did this to film stars in the 50s to produce a sort of god/goddess image of perfection. Some of the poseurs in the illustrations do not look English so may have been "exotic imports" from london as well, rather than likely to be living in the English countryside in Edwardian England. Can someone tell me how these illustrations were reproduced for this book? The freshness is astonishing after 100 years. Do they have any monetary value?

Bible artist said...

Hi Rachel, I'm guessing that the printing process used to reproduce the illustrations in your book was the 'gravure' method but I could be wrong.

As to the value of the book - I'd look for similar copies for sale on the internet. That will give you some idea.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I dont know if you are still lookinh for a copy of the Copping Bible but i have one. its slightly foxed around the edges but all of the illustrations seem un marked. the binding is intact thi slightly loose and its dated 1911 acording to the inscription so probabky 1910 edition. email me for picture if you would like more information.

Anonymous said...

I have a print of The Hope of the World. It was just taken out of an old church. Looking to sale.