Born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, George Cooke showed a youthful interest in art, but first attempted various unsuccessful business endeavors, before teaching himself to paint by copying other portraits. He began his itinerant career in 1821, based principally in Washington, DC, while traveling to Richmond, Virginia and Montgomery, Alabama, in search of portrait commissions. In Washington Cooke studied in 1824 with Charles Bird King, who became a friend and colleague. In 1826, he departed with his wife for an extended period of study and travel in Europe, training for the next five years by copying Old Master paintings in Paris, Rome, Florence, Naples, and England. He returned to America in 1831, and resumed the life of an itinerant artist, doing portraits to earn a scant living, but also painting numerous landscapes and historical subjects that represent his most ambitious works. (NRS)
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