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View of Red Sulphur Springs, Virginia, 1836-1837
George Esten Cooke (1793 – 1849)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
32 3/4 x 48 inches
Status: Private Collection, Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania


Perceval Reniers, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; by descent to his daughter Mrs. Andrew Detch, Lewisburg, West Virginia.


October Exhibition, Apollo Association, American Art Union, New York, 1838.

George Cooke: 1793-1849, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, February 2-March 10, 1991, no. 21. Traveled to Montgomery Museum of Art, Alabama; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina; and Bayly Museum of Art, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

The Virginia Landscape: A Cultural History, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, July 13- November 12, 2000. Traveled to the Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke in 2001.


Keys, Donald D. et al. George Cooke: 1793-1849. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, p. 86; color ill. p. 87.

Kelly, James C. and William M. S. Rasmussen, The Virginia Landscape: A Cultural History. Charlottesville: Howell Press, 2000, pp. 62, 63; color ill. p. 63.

Rudulph, Marilou Alston. “George Cooke and His Paintings.” Reprinted from the Georgia Historical Quarterly 44 (June 1960). Savannah: Georgia Historical Society, 1960, unpaged ill.

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.

Cooke visited the mineral springs of western Virginia on several occasions,  taking water treatments himself. His View of Red Sulphur Springs, Virginia is one of the earliest American paintings of resort tourism in the South. Relying on European  picturesque landscape traditions that he had learned while abroad, Cooke chose a dramatic panorama that shows the guests, manicured grounds, and impressive buildings, framed by the sublime forms of the mountains and the gorge. To indicate the topographical accuracy of the landscape, the artist portrays himself sketching at an easel in the foreground – a common convention of view painting.

As a health resort,  Red Sulphur Springs opened as early as 1832, and was operating under the ownership of William Burke the following year. Burke later issued the volume, Mineral Springs of Western Virginia (1842 and 1846), which reproduced a lithograph after Cooke’s painting. The site was described by many nineteenth-century travelers and writers, among them “Peregrine Prolix,” whose interest in the length of promenades between the  buildings and grounds echoed Burke’s own objective to provide extended areas of sheltered walking space for guests seeking fresh air, light exercise, and social activity, along with their water cures:

The valley runs from north to south, being surrounded by high and steep mountain tops, which enclose a plain abut six hundred feet long, and varying in breadth from one hundred and fifty, to two hundred feet. The mountains are shaded by trees, and one of them is laid out in winding walks leading to a pavilion on the summit. . . .

The little valley has been laid out, and the buildings planned and arranged with taste and judgement. The large Hotel, in which is the dining room, is on the western side of the valley and it is 115 feet long and 54 feet wide, with basement and piazza. North of the hotel ranging along the run are ten buildings of various dimensions, one of which contains hot and cold sulphur baths, and shower baths. On the eastern side of the valley is Carolina building, two stories high, 112 feet long, and 29 feet wide, and having a colonnade in front, which is continued along Batchelors’ Row and Philadelphia Row, adjoining on the south, making the whole length of the colonnade 416 feet.

Behind Batchelors’ Row and sufficiently elevated on the hill to appear over the roof the same is Society Hall, a handsome building, 809 feet long and 30 feet wide. . . .About 110 feet south of the hotel is the spring, covered by an octagon building, the second story of which is used as a Chapel  . . . further south commences a row of cabins extending 264 feet, having a continuous porch along the whole front, called Alabama Rob. . . .

The sleeping accommodations are excellent; and the table is supplied in the best manner, both with solid viands and the various products of the gardens. (Prolix, pp. 209-13.) 



Prolix, Peregrine (Philip Houlbrooke Nicklin). Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs. Second edition. Philadelphia: H.S. Tanner, 1837.

Reniers, Perceval. The Springs of Virginia: Life, Love, and Death at the Waters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

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