Beryl Cook captured many aspects of British character

Beryl Cook celebration

Beryl Cook’s paintings were memorable and life-affirming

Years ago I remember seeing a TV programme about a middle aged woman who ran a guest house and had begun painting as a hobby. She became renowned as a painter with an interesting and instantly recognisable style. Her name was Beryl Cook and her work soon regularly featured in the British National Portrait Gallery in London.

The late Beryl Cook

Beryl’s work was unique and had tremendous character. All of her images still ring true today, as she humorously captured the archetypes of English humdrum life. In an art world that was often serious, incomprehensible and even pretentious, her humble approach won many admirers.

The technical proficiency of Beryl’s work was often overlooked; she composed her pictures perfectly. Colour was also very well handled. Like all proficient artists she could simplify form to make things look better in her paintings than they did in reality. In the above tea garden work for example notice how well painted is the foliage in the background, simplified and wonderful with a good illusion of distance from the sitters. This is great technique.

A great sense of humour is in evidence from the above picture too. A bunch of middle-class middle-aged hipsters enjoy a tea party naked. Beryl shows great respect for the characters portrayed here, not seeking to pass any judgement on them.

Beryl received a lot of recognition during her lifetime as a folk artist, but in my opinion she deserves and will duly receive recognition as a major period artist who brought much to her observations. She may one day be seen as an artist similar to William Hogarth, who documented the life and people of her time in a rapidly changing society.

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