In Memoriam: Beryl Cook

Artist Beryl Cook, a painter with a cartoonists’ sensibility for accurate observation from life, has died aged 81.

Her official biography on her web site indicates she was born in 1926 in Surrey, one of four sisters. She left school at fourteen, showing little talent for painting and worked in a variety of jobs. Moving to London in 1943, she became a showgirl in a touring production of The Gypsy Princess and also worked in the fashion industry, which inspired her life-long interest in the way people dress and how they look.

In 1951 she and husband John and their son moved to Southern Rhodesia, which was to prove a turning point for Beryl. One day she picked up some paints belonging to her son and started a picture. She enjoyed it so much she could not stop. She painted on any surface she could find, scraps of wood, fire screens and most notably a breadboard, as can be seen from her famous early painting of Bowling Ladies.

In 1963 the Cooks returned to England to live in Cornwall where Beryl began to paint in earnest, then moved to Plymouth, Devon where in the summer months they ran a busy theatrical boarding house. Beryl loved the town: a thriving, lively seaside town full of pubs, fishermen and sailors. In the winter, she concentrated on painting, recreating her personal views of Plymouth in vivid oils on wooden panels. Eventually an antique dealer friend persuaded her to let him try and sell a few and, to her surprise, he sold them very quickly.

Bernard Samuels of the Plymouth Art Centre became aware of this ‘local phenomenon’ and in 1975 he finally convinced her to have an exhibition which was an enormous success and gained national publicity that resulted in a cover and feature in the Sunday Times Magazine followed by a swift phone call from London’s Portal Gallery. In 1976, Beryl had her first London exhibition, another success. and her work has been exhibited by Portal ever since.

Influenced by English visionary artist Stanley Spencer and Edward Burra (and, some would argue, postcard art genius Donald McGill), the appeal of Beryl Cook’s paintings is their directness, exuberance and the instant laughter they create. Her characters are always enjoying themselves to the full and it’s no wonder she was once described by comedienne Victoria Wood as ‘Rubens with jokes’.

Tiger Aspect made two half hour animated films of Beryl Cook’s irrepressible women who meet at Plymouth’s Dolphin Pub, Bosom Pals, broadcast in 2004 on BBC1, which received great critical acclaim won several animation awards.

The BBC has a slideshow of some of her best known paintings here
Beryl Cook’s official web site
The World of Beryl Cook – available on

Categories: Obituaries


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