Born 1810 in London, he married Elizabeth Vicat in 1831. He began by painting several large canvas advertisements for a travelling circus, and then spent some time in the Netherlands studying the Dutch Masters. In 1838 he moved to Portsmouth, where he painted mainly animals. In 1845 his Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with Rosinante in Don Pedro's Hut attracted much attention at The British Institution, which was established as a rival to the Royal Academy. He moved back to London in 1852 or 1853.
Inspired by the works of the 17th century Dutch Masters, and after a varied early career as a portraitist and animal painter, Cole established himself as a prolific and popular painter of the English pastoral. He became particularly associated with the landscape of Hampshire, Surrey, Cornwall, Wales, Sussex etc. By the 1870's he had reached the apogee of his artistic career, enjoying great success and prosperity until his death on 7 September 1883.
He was the father of landscapist George Vicat COLE (1833-1893) ARA, RA, with whose works his are sometimes confused, and Miss B Vicat COLE, possibly a granddaughter of George and Elizabeth, is noticed as an artist in Fowey, Cornwall, in the Year's Art editions from 1902-1911.