John Paul Cooper, English, 1869–1933 English
Height x width x depth: 14 x 9.6 x 0.8 cm (5 1/2 x 3 3/4 x 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Gold (15 kt), ruby, moonstone, pearl, amethyst, and chrysoprase
Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery (Gallery 104)
John Paul Cooper, a leading figure in the British Arts and Crafts movement, was an architect, designer, and metalsmith. Born into an affluent Leicester family, Cooper prepared for a career as a writer but was discouraged from pursuing this endeavor by his industrialist father. Instead, he apprenticed to London architect John D. Sedding, a strong proponent of the ideas of John Ruskin and Henry Wilson, an architect with interests in craft, especially metalwork and jewelry. Afterwards, Cooper joined the "Birmingham Group" and served as head of the Metalwork Department of the Birmingham Municipal Art School (1901–1906). He exhibited regularly at the Arts and Crafts Society exhibitions and completed several important public commissions, including two crosses and a pair of altar vases for Birmingham Cathedral. Additionally, his work often appeared in article published in Studio and Art Journal.
Cooper's interest in jewelry design and fabrication began shortly after his association with Wilson. Like Wilson, he eventually employed others to fabricate his jewelry designs although he sometimes did the chasing and repoussé work himself. The jewelry was crafted primarily in 15 kt gold, utilizing semi-precious cabochons (domed, unfaceted stones) and mother-of-pearl. Unlike many Arts and Crafts jewelry designers, Cooper often worked his designs from a selection of stones, rather than creating a design and then finding suitable gems. He once commented that stones should "…play on one another as two notes of music..."
In addition to jewelry, Cooper's workshop designed and fabricated ecclesiastical objects and various decorative arts, including hollowware and frames. Many of the objects incorporate unusual materials, such as coconut shell, ostrich-egg shell, and narwhal tusk. At the beginning of his career, he often used gesso and plaster modeling to decorate surfaces and, at the end of the 1890s, he began making wooden boxes which he covered with shagreen, a decorative veneer made from the skin of certain sharks and rays.
This brooch is a major work by Cooper. Created during a period when the artist relied less on chased representational imagery and more on stones, the ornament conveys a sense of refined opulence. Inspired by medieval and Celtic design, the brooch is both airy and graceful. The goldwork is decorated with finely chased leaves and tendrils and the bezel-set stones include ruby, pearl, moonstone, amethyst, and chrysoprase. It took 273 hours to produce the brooch and Lorenzo Colarosi, Cooper's chief craftsman, was the primary fabricator. It's possible that Cooper did the chasework.
The drawing for the brooch, which is dated 3 December 1908, can be found in Stockbook I, p. 81 in the Cooper Family Archives. Cooper entitled the piece Big double gold brooch.