Jean Cooke  British 1927-2008

Jean Cooke, painter, born in South East London. Her family took her to Birling Gap, Sussex, during the Second World War  She studied art at the Central School, Goldsmiths’ College and the Royal College of Art, where her tutors were Rodrigo Moynihan, Ruskin Spear and Carel Weight. She later returned to the Royal College as a lecturer from 1964 to 1974.

In the early 1950s, she ran a pottery workshop. In 1953, she married fellow artist John Bratby. As Bratby’s career took off and with young children to accommodate, they bought a large house in Blackheath.  Cooke’s marriage of nearly 25 years to the painter John Bratby, with whom she had three sons and a daughter, was often difficult. However, the marriage resulted in some of the most remarkable portrayals in modern British art: his thickly encrusted paintings of Jean as a diminutive, tentative figure amid chaotic domestic detritus, and her brilliant paintings of him as a moody, vulnerable, even fragile figure, as well as her own often harrowingly honest self-portraits. Jean Cooke was elected as a Royal Academician in 1972, she exhibited annually in the RA Summer Exhibition.

She and Bratby eventually divorced in 1977, and he died in 1992. In 1995, the cottage on the cliff-top at Birling Gap, which she rented as a studio from the National Trust, was demolished, as coastal erosion encroached. In 2003, a fire destroyed her house in Blackheath. The family managed to escape the fire unhurt, though she lost most of her possessions and some art works. However, the fire had liberated her to enjoy a fresh start as a painter. She continued to paint in the small flat she then moved to in south-east London.

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