East London Group

John Cooper, photo

John Cooper as a young man,
just out of Art School

John Cooper: 04/07/1894 to 08/02/1943

John Cooper was born in Bolton, Lancashire but the Cooper family moved to Yorkshire when he was two years old, living variously in Scarborough, Bradford and then eventually settling in Menston-in-Wharfedale. Cooper attended art schools in Scarborough, Leeds and latterly Bradford where his studies were to be cut short by the outbreak of WW1. During the war he served in the Royal Flying Corps in a drawing office and also in France from 1916 to 1918. With his return to civilian life after the war he used his ex-serviceman’s grant to help resume his artistic studies, this time under the tutelage of Henry Tonks at The Slade School of Fine Art in London, leaving in 1922.

Like many young artists of his day, Cooper augmented his income from painting by teaching art classes and this is how he came to teach initially at the Bethnal Green Men’s Institute in late 1925 and then the Bow and Bromley Evening Institute from 1926/7. As a well connected person within the art world, Cooper’s drive and charisma soon attracted fellow ex-Slade students to the classes along with his good friend Walter Sickert who came to lecture the working men and women who attended up to three classes each week for two hours at a time. Through Sickert’s involvement and Cooper’s contacts with Sir Joseph Duveen, Sam Courtauld, J B Priestley, Arnold Bennett and others, the fledgling Group first showed at the Whitechapel gallery as the East London Art Club in 1928 to rave reviews in the national press. This led to a small show, sponsored by Aitken, Duveen and others at the National Gallery, Millbank in early 1929 which resulted in nearly a dozen paintings being acquired for the national collection.

The stage was now set for the East London Group (as it became known) to move from the Mile End Road to Mayfair and the prestigious Alex. Reid and Lefevre gallery at 1a King Street in November 1929. The show was greeted with great critical acclaim and would go on to spawn a further seven annual shows for the Group until 1936. In 1930 Cooper became a member of the London Group and in 1931 he married Phyllis Bray who was also to become a member a few years later. They had a daughter, Philippa who was born in 1934 but sadly the couple separated in 1936. With the onset of WW2 Cooper tried but failed to get work as a war artist and, with his health failing, his last few years were largely spent at the family home in Menston where he died in February 1943.

John Cooper and his daughter Phillipa

John Cooper with his daughter, Philippa. He was married for a short while to Philippa's Mother, Phyllis Bray, who was a Group member and graduate from the Slade. Both Cooper and Bray went on to become members of the London Group in the thirties

Ramsay Macdonald & John Cooper

John Cooper, with Prime Minister of the day, Ramsay McDonald at the opening of one of the Group shows at Alex, Reid & Lefevre in the early thirties