Wednesday 28 May 2008


Beryl Cook who died earlier today at the age of 81 was a national treasure: the former sea-side landlady who found fame as the "painter of fat ladies", was as quintessentially English as fish and chips, tea and biscuits, panto jokes and saucy postcards.

She began painting by accident because everyone else in Cornwall, where she lived at the time, was doing it. "I expected to paint like Stanley Spencer," she once said, "It was a great disappointment when I realised that I didn't."

What she did, however was paint like... well, like Beryl Cook: jolly, brazen, raucous scenes in clubs and pubs, at the bridge table and the lingerie party; gossipy girls indulging in light-hearted, good-natured fun and frolics.

Beryl painted for the sheer pleasure of "making pictures" and preferred not to know how much her paintings sold for as it made her feel too anxious and pressurized. She never read reviews of her art, which - hopefully - means that she never encountered Brian Sewell's waspishly stinging indictment, that she had mastered a "very successful formula which fools are prepared to buy."

There are those who think that Mr Sewell was the fool in failing to recognize that we loved Beryl's ample ladies - and the occasional sailor, gigolo and hen-night stripper - because their ribald vulgarity was direct, honest and uncomplicated and because their primitive combination of innocence and bawdiness made us smile!

Victoria Wood hit the nail on the head when she described Cook's art as "Rubens with jokes" and Cook herself said of her work: "I see a lot of sad things, but I wouldn't be motivated to paint them. When I feel uneasy, I laugh."

That is a profound lesson in the art of life-survival.

To my mind, the world is poorer for Beryl's passing, but happily her paintings - and the laughs that go with them - are still there for our enjoyment.

10 September 1926 — 28 May 2008

Visit the The Official Beryl Cool Website


Boll Weavil said...

A great loss.Beryl had what we used to call 'the common touch'. Her paintings were all about our world and the people we knew or saw on the street.For a while, the buses of Nottingham City Transport were decorated with huge murals of her work as advertising and they never failed to lighten my day as they passed by.

SharonM said...

I wasn't really aware of her - great paintings and a heck of a lot more interesting and colourful than some of the 'art' I've seen fetch ridiculous prices.

Anonymous said...

Nice clean smut!
Quite appropriate that you should post this the morning after the programme about Mary Whitehouse!

By the way the word verification today translated into English is "Baby please"!

chanuka.weer said...

She is one of my favourite, See through the society and draw it on her paintings. My favourite artwork is ladies night
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