George Vicat Cole was born in Portsmouth, the son of George Cole (1810-1883) a well-known painter of landscapes, and later portraits, who became Vice President of the Society of British Artists. Cole the younger was brought up in his father’s studio, and instructed by him.
When he was still only a boy the family moved to London. Early influences were Turner, Constable, and Cox. In 1853 the young painter exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time. It seemed likely that his picture would be “skied” meaning hung very high up the wall. In the event it was hung on the line due to the intervention of Millais, who suggested that one of his pictures be “skied,” and replaced on the line by the young Vicat Cole’s painting. Millais had not met the young painter, and this is another instance of the artistic generosity which was such an appealing aspect of his nature.
George Vicat Cole did not have the easiest of starts as a painter. He said that between 1852 and 1856 he painted a vast number of pictures, none of which “sold for more forty shillings” (£2). He was known as a “naturalist,” in that he did not concern himself with artistic theories, but painted by instinct. It was, however, said at the time that this instinctive approach helped give the artist his undoubted power. He worked with simplicity and honesty, and with a “loving vision.” The painter himself may have been surprised at many of the subtleties seen in his works by art critics.
In 1870 Vicat Cole, as he was known, became an Associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1880 a full Academician. Contemporary comment said that Cole was a very English artist, with special feeling for rural scenes. His expertise in capturing the transient and spectacular effects of light was also, rightly, regarded with respect. He was very fond of painting views along the Thames. He did not attempt to suggest to the viewer mystical meanings in nature, but presented what he saw, storm or calm, form and colour with picturesque charm.
Vicat Cole the man was widely admired for his simplicity, kindliness, directness, and humour. He worked diligently and with enthusiasm. He was regarded as having all the characteristics to be admired in an Englishman of his time.
He died on 6 April 1893, shortly before his sixtieth birthday.“