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Auction Record For Beryl Cook Painting At Bonhams

beryl-cook.jpgIn Bonhams sale of 20th Century British Art on Wednesday 2 July, a wonderful and humorous oil on board, Granny with her Pet Mouse by Beryl Cook fetched more than double its estimate to realise a world record price of £69,600 for a work by the artist. A second work in the sale, The Dolphin also soared in price to realise £66,000, also smashing the previous record price of £28,800.

On May 28th this year, Beryl Cook passed away after over 30 years as one of Britain’s most popular and commercial artists.

Born in Egham, Surrey in 1926, as Beryl Frances Lansley, Cook followed a varied career path, including working as a showgirl, before finding her forté lay in painting. In 1948 she married her childhood friend John Cook, a merchant seaman who later took a job with a motor company in Rhodesia, where they lived with their son for seven years before a brief period in Zambia.

It was in Zambia that Cook took up painting and on the family’s return to England moved to Looe in Cornwall, she set herself the task of decorating the walls of their cottage herself and so began a lifelong love affair with painting that saw her work being collected all over the world and even appearing on postage stamps.

It was after moving to Plymouth in 1970, whilst running a B&B with John, that she was ‘discovered’ by admiring guests who eventually persuaded her to sell a few of her pictures (though at first shy, Beryl had preferred to let them think it was her husband or son who had painted the saucy pictures of prostitutes and the like, hanging on her walls).

Cook used anything that she could get her hands on as material to paint on, driftwood picked up from the beach, plywood, bits of wardrobe, even toilet seats. Each picture was carefully thought out and sketched beforehand however, often secretively under the table at her favourite local pub in Plymouth, the Dolphin, before being worked on at home and translated into oil.

Cook’s stated admiration of Stanley Spencer was a starting point for her rotund figures but it was her cheeky and very British sense of humour that the public identified with and loved. In an interview with the BBC in 2006 she stated ‘I’m only motivated to paint by people enjoying themselves’. Like her other stated influence, Edward Burra, she was attracted to nightlife, and in particular what she witnessed around her in Plymouth. The Dolphin (see Lot 98), was where she was to be most often found on a Friday, sitting in the corner sipping her gin and tonic, observing the boisterous clientele who were to be the inspiration for many of her pictures. In 2004, the pub featured as the setting of the award winning Bosom Pals, a two part animation series directed by Ginger Gibbons using Beryl Cook’s voluptuous ladies with the voices of Dawn French and Alison Steadman amongst others. Despite the hostile reception she received from various art critics, Cook did not retaliate, instead describing herself as the ‘maker of pictures’ instead of an artist. What mattered most to her was the enjoyment that her pictures brought the public and her quirky sense of humour, witty observation and love of life is what she’ll best be remembered for.

In November this year Plymouth University will be showing a major retrospective of Beryl Cook’s work.

Also in the sale, an oil on board of The Farm by the visual poet of the industrial landscape, Laurence Stephen Lowry R.A. (British, 1887-1976), belonging to the environmentally conscious Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) doubled its estimate to realise £276,000. The painting, which was bought by the company in 1960, hung in the company’s Manchester headquarters – an appropriate setting given the amount of inspiration Lowry gained from this city, his birthplace.

In contrast to the style Lowry is typically known for, and unseen in public for over forty years, The Farm, 1955, depicts a pastoral scene in Regent Street, Lytham. This was a nearby area that Lowry often explored whilst living in Pendlebury. He first began to draw the locality in pastel around 1912-1920, revisiting the scene some thirty years later to produce the present work. Whilst there are a number of similarities between the early pieces and this one, such as the absence of prominent figures and the presence of subtle colour nuance, Lowry had undoubtedly honed his technique in the intervening years, the results of which are evident. The finished work is imbued with a tenderness and genuine affection for nature.