Triassic Cliffs at Blue Anchor, North Somerset, 1866
Oil on canvas
Cooke was an avid fossil collector, a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, and moved in the same scientific circles as Darwin and his friend Thomas Henry Huxley. In his Triassic Cliffs, the rock strata, distorted by earth movements, are so sharply observed that it is even possible to see the fault line where the fossil-rich sedimentary grey shales of the Penarth Group, once under the sea, meet the non-fossiliferous Red Keuper Marl, deposited in a hot desert environment. So far from producing a dry, matter-of-fact view of these ancient geological junctures, however, Cooke uses them to indicate the vast age of the earth and the transformations that had shaped the landscape. By comparison, the tiny human figures on the shore are dwarfed by the ever-transforming forces of nature: a poignant reminder of man’s ephemeral passage on earth.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.Discovering Fossils: Blue Anchor (Somerset) fossils