The London-born son of engraver George Cooke, Edward's first artistic endeavor was the sketch book, "Shipping and Craft" in which he presented 50-plate engravings from his drawings of sea-going vessels. Six years later he would begin a long association with the British Royal Academy, where he would exhibit 129 paintings over his career.
Scholarly pursuits led Cooke to associate with intellectual giants. A member of the fellows of the Royal Society and numerous other such organizations, he was widely traveled and read. The beaches of Holland and the Canals of Venice were two of his favorite and repeated destinations. Still, his affinity with the common British folk of the fishing trades held through his life, painting views of the coastal activities of his native land far more than any other.
He painted views of coastal waters which are best described with the oxymoron complexly simple. Each is a complete composition, usually full of places, landmarks and people which singularly could be the focus, yet the minute items present important natural context to his scenes. Combined with his enormous talent for subtle coloration and presentation of graduated light, it is in agreement that Cooke is to be held in the highest regard as a top-quality artist of the 19th century.