Jacob Cox was born in Burlington New Jersey, the first of ten children born to a Quaker couple who died in separate ferry accidents. Cox’s grandfather and aunt in Washington, Pennsylvania became his guardians. By that time the young Cox was already interested in art. He was apprenticed to a tinsmith at the age of sixteen. In 1830, Cox and his brother established a tinsmith shop, first in Pittsburgh and later in Indianapolis. The business prospered forcing Cox to pursue his painting during his spare time. By 1835 painting portraits was added to Cox’s business. Cox closed his shop and traveled to Cincinnati to study with John Dunn, returning to Indianapolis to paint portraits of such local notables as Senator Oliver Smith, Governors David Wallace and Noah Noble, State Treasurer Samuel Merrill, and numerous prominent businessmen and their families. His success enabled Cox to travel to New York City to study briefly at the National Academy of Design. Upon his return, he found time to add landscapes and still life to his repertoire. When the Indiana School of Art was established in Indianapolis in 1877, Cox became one of its teachers. He continued to paint and exhibit until his death at eighty one.
Cox often modeled his landscapes after the calm, pastoral views of Hudson River school painters, such as Asher B. Durand. Landscape near Indianapolis may depict a stretch of Fall Creek north of the city, an area Cox frequently painted. The three figures in the lower left could be a family about to begin the arduous transformation from the frontier into the orderly Indiana farmland pictured in the distance. The bridge in the composition’s center reinforces the idea of transition from wilderness to productive land. Cox’s soft brushwork and saturated pastel palette convey a sense of optimism about life in Indiana in the 1860s.
Paintings by Jacob Cox a Retrospective Exhibition of Work by an Early Indianapolis Artist, Indianapolis: John Herron Art Museum, 1941. ASIN: B001O1F2TS