Volume 22, Issue 1 | Spring 2023

Daniel Cottier: Designer, Decorator, Dealer by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Max Donnelly, with Andrew Montana and Suzanne Veldink

Reviewed by Janet Whitmore

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Max Donnelly, with Andrew Montana and Suzanne Veldink,
Daniel Cottier: Designer, Decorator, Dealer.
London and New Haven: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in association with Yale University Press, 2022.
256 pp.; 198 color illus.; bibliography; index.
$50.00 (hardback)
ISBN: 978–1–913107–18–5

Introducing the work of a relatively unknown yet key figure in the history of nineteenth-century art is rare. It is even more remarkable when the scope of that work reaches across three continents. Daniel Cottier: Designer, Decorator, Dealer by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Max Donnelly, with Andrew Montana and Suzanne Veldink, accomplishes the task admirably. Daniel Cottier (1838–91) was a Scottish designer whose career expanded from his home city of Glasgow to London, and then across the Atlantic to New York and eventually to Sydney, Australia. He began as a glass painter and expanded his range of skills to include interior decoration (decorative painting, stained glass, ceramics, and furniture design) as well as fine art marketing.

The impetus for the book emerged from a meeting between Chu and Donnelly in 2015. Both had already done considerable work on Cottier and realized that any comprehensive publication about his career and contribution would require an international team of scholars who could not only cover three continents but also discuss a broad range of media. Andrew Montana provided his deep knowledge of Australian art history and Suzanne Veldink her expertise on The Hague School in particular and the nineteenth-century British/Dutch art market in general. As stated in the Introduction,

This book seeks to rehabilitate the reputation of a gifted designer and a brilliant art impresario industrialist, who keenly spotted and creatively exploited one of the key aspects of late nineteenth-century bourgeois culture—its focus on family, home, and religion. More broadly, this book intends to contribute to a fuller and more complete understanding of Aestheticism, an international trend in the history of culture, art, and design from the mid-1860s to the late 1890s, in which Cottier played a crucial role (2).

Researching Cottier’s global enterprise would prove particularly challenging because of two factors. There were few extant business records from either the London or New York offices, and many of the buildings where Cottier and his colleagues had worked were either destroyed or renovated beyond recognition. Fortuitously, Cottier was a skilled advocate for his own design firms, and there is documentation of his public lectures, writings, and many reviews of his work as well as the painting exhibitions at his galleries in London and New York.

The book is organized around the three branches of Daniel Cottier’s design firm: London, New York, and Sydney. After a short introduction to Cottier and many of the key people associated with him, chapter 1 opens with a more detailed biography of the designer and his early career in Scotland. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on London and the art market in Britain; chapters 4 and 5 cover New York and the art market there, and chapters 6 and 7 examine the Australian branch of the firm and the closing years of the enterprise. Each chapter contains a generous number of subheadings to guide the reader through the material, a feature that is singularly necessary—and much appreciated—when the content is both complex and entirely new to most readers.

In chapter 1 Max Donnelly introduces Daniel Cottier as a young man in Glasgow in the early 1850s. Very little is known about his childhood or his education except that he was apprenticed as a “coach painter” and then moved on to become a “glass painter.” By the mid-1850s, he had moved to Edinburgh where he worked for a large glass-painting firm. A couple of years later, he was in London where he found employment with the stained-glass makers Ward & Hughes in Soho and enrolled in evening classes at the Working Men’s College nearby. There he would have been exposed to contemporary theories in art and design, perhaps listening to John Ruskin (1819–1900), who taught drawing classes there until 1860, or taking life classes from Ford Madox Brown (1821–93), who worked there between 1858 and 1860. In 1862, William Morris (1834–96) opened his design firm in Red Lion Square, just a few blocks from the College. Donnelly proposes that Cottier may have worked there briefly (11). These scant facts illustrate the challenge of working on a figure like Cottier. Although his presence at the Working Men’s College is known, there is no extant record of what courses he took or who he might have met there. The College was not large, however, and the concentration of artists and designers associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who taught there is documented. It seems likely that most students would have been exposed to their ideas if they were enrolled in visual arts classes.

Regardless of where he gained experience in a design firm, Cottier returned to Edinburgh in 1862 to work as a manager for Field & Allan, specialists in stained glass, marble, and “decorated interiors” (11). He focused primarily on stained glass, designing windows for the Pilrig Free Church in Leith and a large armorial window that won a medal at the International Exhibition in London in 1862. Two years later, he established his own firm in Edinburgh’s New Town quarter where he advertised himself as a “church decorator” as well as a “house decorator” (12). And he married his former boss’s daughter, Marion Field, in 1866.

During these years, Cottier took on three major church projects in the region. The first was the Townhead Parish Church, where he handled the interior decoration, including the stained glass in the nave, clerestory, and west transept. Interestingly, Morris, Marshall, & Faulkner received the commission to do the east transept. Second was the Dowanhill Church in Glasgow, a Gothic Revival style building designed by William Leiper (1839–1916), who would become a frequent collaborator with Cottier. The interior decoration included faux stone courses around the nave and a dark blue ceiling replete with golden stars. Today, the Dowanhill Church is Cottier’s Theatre, which was restored between 2005 and 2012. The third project was a collaboration with architect Alexander Thomson (1817–75) on Queen’s Park Church. Although it was destroyed during an air raid in 1943, the nineteenth-century accounts indicate that it was a Greek Revival style building with polychrome decoration by Cottier. All three of these church projects were well received by the public.

Cottier also sought out residential projects, and in the late 1860s a local businessman and art collector, John Forbes White (1831–1904), hired him to design the interiors of Seaton Cottage. He created stained glass for the front door and windows for the drawing room and dining room. In addition, he developed geometric stencil patterns for the ceiling and walls, much like those of William Morris in London. By the end of the decade, Cottier’s reputation as “one of the most daring and innovative decorators of Scotland” was established (13).

Chapter 2 opens with Cottier’s move to London in late 1869. In part, the move was intended to be a fresh start after the loss of his eighteen-month-old son Archibald to illness. Cottier himself had been ill with rheumatic fever, which eventually contributed to his own death. By June 1870, he and his family were living at 3 St. James Terrace along the northern edge of Regents Park, in an area where a number of artists and art dealers had settled. James Tissot (1836–1902), Ernest Gambart (1836–1912), and Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) were all neighbors. Cottier & Company’s showroom and workshop were in the West End near Regent Street.

As in Edinburgh, Cottier offered interior decoration services for both churches and residences, but he began to expand his scope fairly soon after moving to London. While the Scottish work had been primarily painting and stained glass, the new firm branched out into the design of “art furniture,” ceramics, and fine art—and the staff grew accordingly. Initially, Cottier’s relationships with other Scots in London, such as the architect John James Stevenson (1831–1908), provided a network of business associates who could open doors to other opportunities. He lost no time in being elected to the Arts Club, where he met designers such as Owen Jones (1809–74), Edward Godwin (1833–86), and William Burges (1827–81). He also met Mary Eliza Haweis (1848–98) in 1872, a writer and critic who would become a frequent promoter of Cottier’s work in the London press.

The decade of the 1870s was a time of expansion and development for Cottier & Co. It did not take long for Cottier to obtain projects from his base in London. He continued to work on large stained-glass projects for clients in Scotland such as the Church of St. Machar in Aberdeen as well as extensive residential projects such as the home of John G. Ure (1853–1928) in Helensburgh. Although Cottier continued to design most of the stained glass and furniture, his business responsibilities took an increasing amount of time, leaving the implementation of his design ideas to his staff.

In addition to his design firm, Cottier was steadily incorporating paintings into his inventory, primarily from contemporary Dutch and French artists. By 1875, he had decided to open the Cottier Art Rooms at an entirely different location at 8 Pall Mall near Trafalgar Square.

Chapter 3, written by Suzanne Veldink, focuses on the art gallery and the role of Cottier in presenting The Hague School artists to British collectors. In fact, it was his client John Forbes White from Aberdeen who introduced Cottier to Dutch landscape painting when he was designing Seaton Cottage. White was an active collector, traveling frequently to The Netherlands to visit artists and occasionally commissioning them to create works for his private collection. Cottier began purchasing art through Goupil & Cie’s London gallery in 1867. This gave him the opportunity to study how an art gallery operated and may well have inspired him to consider it as part of his own business. By 1868, he was acting as an agent for the painter David Artz (1837–90), whom he met through White. In turn, Artz introduced Cottier to many other artists associated with The Hague School, including Bernard Blommers (1845–1914), Johannes Bosboom (1817–91), and Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831–1915).

Within a few years, Cottier was an established art dealer in London, and in 1874, he hired Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848–1912) as the head of the fine art section of Cottier & Co. He also hired an antiques dealer in Glasgow, William Craibe Angus (1830–99), as a partner in creating a gallery there. Cottier’s Scottish clients were eager to purchase paintings, but most of them had neither the time nor the knowledge to buy directly from artists. In short, they needed a dealer. Cottier would purchase the paintings from his base in London and ship them to Glasgow. Many of the paintings came from Goupil’s branches in Paris and The Hague and from Lefevre Gallery in London. He also purchased prints and drawings to appeal to a more middle-class market.

Knowing that many clients were curious about French art, Cottier began buying works by French Barbizon painters in the early 1870s. He stocked up on works by Camille Corot (1796–1875) and Charles Daubigny (1817–78) initially, and after Corot’s death in 1875, organized the largest exhibition of his works in London. Over time, he began to purchase paintings by Narcisse Diaz de la Peña (1807–76) and Adolphe Monticelli (1824–86). In the 1880s, the work of Matthijs Maris (1839–1917) became central to the London gallery. Cottier also dealt art through his New York firm, which he visited frequently in the 1870s.

The second section of the book begins with chapter 4, “New York 1873–1915,” by Petra Chu. Cottier and the architect James S. Inglis (1845–1907) arrived in New York City to open a new branch of Cottier & Co. in September 1873. As was his typical pattern, Cottier began by promoting the firm as a source for residential and ecclesiastical design services, this time under the management of Inglis. The showroom was located in a five-story townhouse at 144 Fifth Avenue. Cottier & Co. occupied the entire building, with the showroom on the first floor, an art gallery on the second floor, storage on the third, and Inglis’s residence on the top two floors. A workshop and manufacturing space, most likely for furniture production, was located at West 31st Street. All together there were 110 employees.

Cottier & Co.’s art furniture seems to have been quite successful in New York, even though the firm was competing with well-established companies like Herter Brothers, L. Marcotte & Co., Pottier & Stymus, and Cox & Sons, all of which had been in business since before the Civil War. The art critic Clarence Cook (1828–1900) was part of the reason for Cottier’s success. He was the co-founder of the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art, the US counterpart to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England, and his views on design were naturally in tune with Cottier & Co. In his articles for Scribner’s Monthly, Cook mentioned Cottier often as a leader in the field of interior design.

Cottier was also fortunate in meeting Ichabod T. Williams (1826–99), the owner of a lumber company specializing in hardwoods. The relationship began when Williams supplied the design firm with wood for their furniture, but he soon became a client, hiring them to design his home at 18 West 36th Street. Some of those pieces are known today, such as a mahogany mantel clock from 1883 in the Brooklyn Museum that reveals Cottier & Co.’s meticulous and expressive craftsmanship. Tiffany & Co. provided the clock’s movement.

In the field of painted furniture, the New York branch differentiated itself from other firms by hiring fine artists to create the designs. Although these works are known only through reproductions today, it is clear that the furniture often contained figural paintings on cabinets and screens. Francis Lathrop (1848–1909), for example, painted a corner cupboard for Cottier in 1878 with two classical figures on the upper doors. Likewise, the American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917) painted numerous leather panels that would have been mounted on screens, cabinets, or chairs.

Little is known about the New York branch’s interior design work except for the projects they did for Henry Clay Frick (1848–1919). From 1903 to 1913 Cottier & Co. were responsible for decorating, refurbishing, and maintaining his houses on Fifth Avenue and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Pride’s Crossing, Massachusetts. In addition, they took care of Frick’s box at the Metropolitan Opera.

Commissions for stained glass designs are better documented, in part because several of the projects were well publicized. The practice of creating memorial windows in stained glass was quite popular in the US. H. H. Richardson (1838–86) incorporated space for twenty-four of them in his design for Trinity Church on Copley Square in Boston. When the church was consecrated in 1877, only one stained-glass memorial window was in place; by 1882, there were twenty-four, four of which were designed by Cottier & Co. The painter John La Farge (1835–1910), who also worked as a stained-glass designer, was hired to handle the interior design of the whole church, but he contracted Cottier in October 1876 to oversee the ornamental decoration. Experience matters.

Cottier & Co. also designed two memorial windows for Memorial Hall at Harvard University. The first was for the Class of 1858, and the second was an unfinished design by La Farge for the Class of 1857 that was completed in the London workshop and shipped to Massachusetts. Elsewhere in the country, the company’s stained-glass practice continued to expand with projects for large three-light memorial windows for the Unitarian Church of the Messiah in St. Louis, Missouri, and a very large memorial window honoring Watts Sherman for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, New York. Clearly, the reputation of Cottier & Co. had spread far beyond New York City.

The New York section also concludes with a chapter on the art market. Chu notes that the records of Cottier’s art dealing are skimpy although the evidence of his presence is well documented in press accounts. The Cottier Gallery (also called Cottier Art Rooms) opened on March 1, 1877, and the opening exhibition was covered extensively by The New York Times. The anonymous reviewer reported that there were paintings by Daubigny, Corot, Maris, Diaz de la Peña, Louis Mettling (1847–1904), and Ryder. In addition, there was a selection of sketches by Jean-François Millet (1814–75), Théodore Rousseau (1812–67), and John Constable (1776–37), plus a very large watercolor (10’ x 4’) of Lower Manhattan by Jules Lessore (1848–92). The following year, Cottier & Co. would add works by Monticelli, Jules Dupré (1811–89), Charles Jacque (1813–94), Georges Michel (1763–1843), Ferdinand Roybet (1840–1920), Constant Troyon (1810–65), and US sculptor Olin Levi Warner (1844–96). Equally notable, the Gallery also began to present works by members of The Hague School, including Bosboom, Anton Mauve (1838–88), and Henri Stacquet (1838–1906). These artists would remain the core of Cottier & Co.’s inventory in New York.

The last two chapters deal with the Sydney and Melbourne branches of Cottier & Co. Andrew Montana from the Centre of Art History and Art Theory at the Australia National University was responsible for the research into Cottier & Co.’s presence in Australia. In chapter 6, he covers the period from 1873 to 1886 in Sydney, and in chapter 7 the period from 1887 to 1924, when there was also an office in Melbourne until 1895. One important difference in researching Cottier’s Australian offices is that the firm’s design archives have been preserved, as have many more of their projects.

The Sydney branch of Cottier & Co. was managed by John Lamb Lyon (1835–1916), who had been friends with Cottier since their apprenticeship days in Glasgow. Lyon emigrated to Australia in 1861, where he worked as a stained-glass designer with a firm in Melbourne. It wasn’t until he returned to Britain for a family visit in 1870–71 that he renewed his acquaintance with Cottier in London. It was at that time that the two old friends developed their plans for a branch office in Sydney. When Lyon returned to Australia, he left his job in Melbourne, moved his family to Sydney and opened Lyon, Cottier, & Co. on Pitt Street in 1873.

The Sydney location was an astute business decision. The city was growing and new construction in both institutional and residential building was booming—and there was little competition from other interior decorating firms. Initially the London branch created the majority of the designs for the Sydney projects, but by 1874, Lyon established a stained-glass workshop nearby. It was too expensive to ship materials from London and it was more efficient to develop local suppliers. The building boom of the late 1870s and early 1880s helped to facilitate this shift as well.

During the early years of the Sydney office, Lyon worked with Charles Gow (1847–93), who traveled from London to help establish the showroom. He would remain there until 1876 before returning to London. The opening of Lyon, Cottier, & Co. was a major event in the city, and Gow’s design was the first sign that something new was happening in the city. The stained-glass windows featured in the showroom depicted the ancient Roman figures of Flora and Pomona. The style was not the typical gothic revival of ecclesiastical stained glass, but rather a monumental classical rendition of allegorical, mythological women. The local press loved it. And Gow remained at the Sydney firm until 1876 before returning to London.

Public commissions followed promptly, beginning with the interior decoration of the new Post Office where they were responsible for the Postmaster General’s suite of rooms. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the frescoed ceilings were painted in “harmonious colours” that coordinated with the design of the carpet and the “rich hangings” on the windows (151). Lyon, Cottier, & Co. was perceived as “innovative and original” (151). In short order, the firm was also working on the Parliament House where they designed the vestibule and “refreshment room” in a classical Greek and Egyptian style that suited the formal activities that would occur there (152). The Government House refurbishing project, commissioned in 1877, was even larger, encompassing the vestibule, drawing room, anteroom, dining room, and ballroom as Australia prepared for the opening of their first international exposition in 1879. The interior decoration was again based on classically themed motifs executed in soft hues. Many of the designs came from the firm’s pattern library in London, but the floral imagery was already beginning to depict Australian plants rather than British specimens.

In addition to the Government House preparations for the nation’s first international exposition, Lyon, Cottier, & Co. worked on the large Garden Palace where the fair would be held. It was a vast basilica plan structure with a dome above the transept crossing—in other words, a massive undertaking. The firm began decorating the immense interior spaces before the construction was completed, assembling many teams of decorators to get the work done on time. Lyon, Cottier, & Co. also showcased an exhibition of their own design offerings as part of the fair.

In 1879 Lyon and Cottier dissolved their partnership, and Lyon became the sole owner of the firm. Nonetheless he retained the name Lyon, Cottier, & Co. and continued to work with the London branch for many years. It is tempting to wonder if this was part of the plan from the outset. Cottier would provide financing, staffing, and design support until Lyon had solidly established the firm in Sydney. In return his name would continue to be associated with another successful international design firm. All of the authors in this book stressed that Cottier knew that his health had been compromised by his bout of rheumatic fever in 1869 and that his life expectancy had been shortened as a result.

Residential projects were equally abundant in the 1870s and 1880s. The company’s reach had expanded into suburban areas and occasionally beyond that as well. Lyon’s network of contacts with architects and contractors had also grown, positioning him to hear about potential projects early in the development process. Fortunately, a number of the design documents for these houses still exist. The renderings and drawings for the interiors of Woollahra House, home to William Charles Cooper (1851–1925), for example, reveal an adaptation of Robert Adam’s (1728–92) neoclassical design vocabulary that is both understated and elegant. In contrast, a contemporaneous house called The Abbey from 1881–82 is a dramatic medieval pastiche of gothic elements. As Montana notes, “Extensive decoration of the walls, ceilings, and built-in furniture throughout the house helped to create a medieval fantasy in Sydney” (161).

As a stained-glass designer himself, it was no surprise that Lyon diverged from Cottier’s stylistic example in this field more than any other. Montana remarks that he “rarely followed Cottier’s preference for painterly windows and was more inclined to follow Cottier’s abstracting example” (162). This is particularly evident in the Great Synagogue from 1878, a prestigious project resulting from the merger of two congregations. It was designed in 1874 by architect Thomas Rowe (1829–99), who relied heavily on an international team of craftsmen from as far away as Philadelphia. Lyon, Cottier, & Co. provided the refreshingly original stained glass. The dominant motif is an eight-pointed star which lends itself well to the abstract designs of the windows.‍[1] The contrast between light and dark colors is particularly striking; the palette of deep reds, blues, and a warm purple stand out sharply against the surrounding white tones that comprise most of the glass. The crisp geometry of the forms creates a sense of lightness even in the context of the heavy stone structure.

Ceramic design and production played an equally important role in the Sydney office. Lyon took a personal interest in ceramic plaques, possibly because of his own work as an oil painter or because his daughter Margaret painted china. Undoubtedly, it was Margaret’s influence that encouraged him to make the firm’s kilns available for women who were learning to paint porcelain. Lyon also acted as an agent for many of the women working as textile and ceramic artists.

In 1887 Lyon formed a partnership with Andrew Wells (1845–1918), one of Cottier’s former assistants. The firm was then renamed Lyon, Wells, Cottier, & Co. Wells settled in Melbourne, which was undergoing an urban real-estate boom. The branch office at 16 Collins Street would offer “artistic decoration of business premises, clubs, churches and especially residences” (178).

One of the Melbourne office’s first big projects was the Australian Chartered Bank. The manager was Sir George Frederick Verdon (1834–96), who was not only a banker and politician, but also an art collector who happened to be the president of the Board for the National Gallery of Victoria. The architect for the Bank was William Wardell (1823–99). Wells designed the interior of the banking chamber as well as Verdon’s two-story residence on the upper floors. An anonymous reporter for the Argus newspaper described the extraordinary banking chamber in glowing terms:

The banking chamber is of noble dimensions. Above there is a rich yet well-harmonised [sic] glow of blue and gold, of columns ornamented with beautiful capitals representing the fruits of Australia, the grape, the fig, and the wheat sheaf. . . . The eye wanders forth again from the mirror-like polish of the fittings to the columns and ironwork of the arching roof, whose supports, even to the rivets, are cunningly made to share in the decoration (182).

What stands out to this twenty-first-century reader is the fact of Wells’s incorporation of visible industrial technology—such as rivets—into his decorative scheme.

Cottier could have felt justifiably proud when he and his family visited Australia in early 1888. Both the Sydney and Melbourne offices were busy preparing for the Australian Centennial exhibition scheduled to open in September. The business was thriving, and the firm had established a national reputation for innovation in design. Lyon did not pursue fine art dealing as Cottier had hoped, but all other aspects of the enterprise were doing well. He returned one last time in April 1890 to speak at the Art Society of New South Wales. In December of 1890, Cottier was back in New York for his daughter Margaret’s wedding to Lloyd Williams, the son of his friend and client Ichabod Williams. He died just five months later on April 15, 1891, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Daniel Cottier’s death occurred at the onset of a global economic recession. The London office eliminated the art gallery and most of the interior decoration business but continued to produce stained glass and furniture until 1897. It is possible, although not certain, that it lasted until 1908 before closing the doors for the last time. In New York, James Inglis led the firm successfully through the recession of the 1890s and into the twentieth century. His successor Walter P. Fearon (ca. 1876–1935) took the reins after Inglis’s death in 1907 but went bankrupt eight years later. The Melbourne office closed due to the recession in 1895, and Andrew Wells returned to Scotland. In Sydney, John Lyon continued to thrive until his death in 1916. His firm, Lyon, Wells, Cottier, & Co., continued until 1924.

Daniel Cottier: Designer, Decorator, Dealer does indeed “rehabilitate the reputation of a gifted designer and a brilliant art impresario industrialist” (2), as the authors hoped it would. It is an impressive accomplishment in terms of research and transnational scholarly collaboration. There is an abundance of information introducing not only Daniel Cottier but also many other designers, artisans, and collectors whose names are relatively unknown. It offers art historians a fuller picture of the second half of the nineteenth century in the context of the growing bourgeois art market. And it details the emerging role of what we would now call interior design as a separate and distinct profession.

The book is also an example of how best to present basic research even when primary materials are missing and artifacts, artworks, and buildings are no longer extant. Less diligent scholars might well have thrown up their hands in despair. There is much to be learned, however, regardless of the inevitable gaps that occur under such circumstances. The essays raise questions about any number of aspects of design practices at the time, about the Scottish network of architects and designers that seems to have reached around the globe, or about the emergence of Australia’s sense of a national artistic identity. Most importantly, these issues offer a starting point for further exploration and an invitation to future scholarship on the subject.


[1] According to Andrew Montana, the eight-pointed star was often used in Jewish iconography up until the end of the nineteenth century when the six-pointed star became accepted as the standard emblem (169). See also Michael Berkowitz, Nationalism, Zionism, and Ethnic Mobilizations of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond (Leiden: Brill Publishing, 2004), 301.