landscape painter and professional photographic colourist, was born in Walden, Essex. He came to Victoria with his parents in 1852. At the age of fourteen he entered the photographic studio of G.W. Perry and remained there for several years as a technical assistant primarily engaged in colouring photographs. In old age Cook remembered his employment as: 'painting miniatures and … life size portraits in oil, in connection with photography … But this was only my bread-and-butter work; the rest of my fifteen-hour day was devoted to landscape with horses and cattle. Later I added architecture and figures’. His dedication attracted the attention of Nicholas Chevalier , who gave him some instruction in painting, drawing, lithography and wood-engraving, then employed him as assistant when commissioned by the Duke of Edinburgh to prepare a series of drawings of Victorian and New Zealand landscapes in 1867-68.
For most of his Australian years, Cook lived in Melbourne and Geelong, painting but continuing to earn his living as a photographic colourist. He showed a watercolour, View on the Yarra , at the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition when living in Commercial Road, Prahran. In 1869 he exhibited a watercolour View on the Western Beach, Geelong at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute and had six watercolour landscapes and views of houses included in the Geelong Mechanics Institute Exhibition. Undoubtedly he was the 'J.W. Cook’ catalogued as the artist of View on the River Ovens, Mount Feathertop in the Distance and a New Zealand landscape at the Geelong exhibition and View of Melbourne from Prahran at Ballarat in 1869 (all watercolours).
E.W. Cook studied at the National Gallery of Victoria’s School of Design in 1870-72, a foundation student with Tom Roberts , Rupert Bunny and others. He was also a foundation member of the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1870 and showed Victorian and New Zealand landscapes at the inaugural exhibition. His oil View from Mount Macedon, Looking Towards the Bay (p.c.) dates from that year. He exhibited with the New South Wales Academy of Art in 1872 and 1873, and he continued to show work with the Victorian Academy of Arts for many years after he left Victoria.
After showing views of Hobart Town at Melbourne in 1873, Cook travelled to England in order to pursue a full-time career as a painter. His oil painting of a New Zealand scene was to be shown in the Victorian court at that year’s London International Exhibition, which may have been a factor in the move. In London he became a member of the Langham Sketching Club and exhibited with the Royal Academy (1875-1919) and the Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street, 1874-80). His watercolour paintings, now normally self-consciously picturesque subjects from Italy, Switzerland, the Lake District, Yorkshire or the Thames Valley, include Junction of the Wye and the Severn from the Windcliff (1881, AGNSW) and St Georgio in Venice (1896, NGV).
In 1886 Cook joined with a group of expatriates in London to present a 'Colonial Fine Art exhibition’ of Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian subjects at the Burlington Gallery, hoping to attract buyers from visitors to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition being held at the same time. He showed seventeen Australian and New Zealand subjects – all apparently retrospective memories painted for the occasion (probably from photographs as much as old sketches) – such as Hauling Timber , Wild Duck Shooting , The Buffalo Ranges and the Township of Bright, Ovens’ District, Victoria and Picnic in Ferntree Gully, Victoria .
Late in life Cook painted 'ideal’ allegorical and mythological scenes, such as A Paradise of Art (c.1902), An Enchanted Lake and Birds of Paradise , all featuring High Victorian classical nudes in elaborate Claudian settings. His 'bread-and-butter work’ now, he said, was painting azaleas ('just the most beautiful things in nature’), views such as Oata: Gem of Italian Lakes and some 'severe architectural work’ including a set of illustrations to John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice , which he exhibited. He published two reactionary propagandist works in old age, 'Anarchism in Art and Chaos in Criticism’ and Retrogression in Art and the Suicide of the Royal Academy (2 vols, London 1924), in which he vigorously attacked the 'mad, or morbid’ artistic Bolsheviks of modern art and defended his own paintings. Cook died in England in June 1926.