Beryl Cook – Bristol City Museum Exhibition

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery’s summer exhibition this year shows the joyous paintings of Beryl Cook who died in 2008.

I’ve learnt a lot about Beryl Cook in the last week or so and been round the exhibition twice, once to take photos to send to an old friend who has some of her work and then, surprise, the old friend got in contact and turned up here so we went together again. This time I sat and watched the archive film of the rare interviews she gave and really warmed to her as a person.

Despite being largely snubbed by the art establishment, Beryl Cook became well-loved by the general public following a South Bank Show about her in 1979. In January 2004 there was a two part cartoon called Bosom Pals which had Dawn French, Timothy Spall and Alison Steadman giving voice to her characters. You can find bits of these on YouTube if you look for them.

She lived here in Bristol for a while and some of her pub pictures are from that time, as is the painting of the ferry boat Matilda which still works down on the Harbour.

She had no formal training and didn’t take up painting until her 40s.

There are no restrictions on taking photos in the Museum, with the stipulation that you don’t use flash so here are a few of the ones I took. I thought the food related ones might be fun to share with you! Her work is much sought after now and collected. I hope this doesn’t impinge on the copyright of these pictures. I have reproduced them here at a small size and a low resolution and hope to publicise the free exhibition at the City Museum by doing so. If there is a problem with showing them, I hope someone will let me know.

I’ve found this lovely slideshow with extracts from interviews with Beryl Cook on the BBC’s website as well!

20 thoughts on “Beryl Cook – Bristol City Museum Exhibition

  1. Jeannette

    Hi Joanna, as I mentioned yesterday, my g/daughter has recently been in the BRI and my daughter found out about this exhibition while she was there staying over with her and visited it one Saturday afternoon. My daughter has long been an admirer of Beryl Cook and couldn’t believe her luck in being able to see this body of work, and for free too! I’d love to see it myself as I also am an admirer, I always think her pictures bring a smile to the face in fact my daughter said everyone looked happy at the viewing.

  2. Joanna Post author

    Hi Jeanette! You can’t stop smiling when you look at her pictures. There are some pdfs of articles written about her in the press over the years on the site where they sell her work now. Here is one written at the time she lived in Bristol from the Sunday Times Magazine. I watched her talking on film in the Museum and she is very matter of fact, and quite shy. She says on the film that she hopes that her pictures make people feel happy. They certainly cheered me up.

  3. Jeannette

    Really enjoyed reading the article, she sounds a really down to earth type of person, just as I thought she might be. I must send this to my daughter, I know she will enjoy reading it also.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I hope your daughter likes it Jeanette, there are bits and pieces about her life and work here and there if you google her name.

  4. teawithhazel

    we must have some of beryl cook’s work at our national gallery because i know her work..but i knew nothing of the artist til now..such an original artist and an inspiration to us all..jane

    1. Joanna Post author

      Her paintings are widely reproduced on greeting cards as well. In the interviews I read she talks about admiring Stanley Spencer, and Burra and she was a big fan of Art Deco.

      There’s a slideshow here on the BBC site with some audio as well, if you can see it where you live, I am not sure….

      1. teawithhazel

        thanks joanna..maybe i’ve seen her work on cards after all..i hadn’t heard of either of those artists but i did look them up ..and i was able to view the slide show and hear the audio..i don’t think i’ll take up bowls! jane

        1. Joanna Post author

          hee hee, there is a bowls club just round the corner from me, I don’t think I will look at it the same way either. Sabotage! Lots of her paintings are based on this circular spiralling form like a snail; she said she found it particularly pleasing to paint.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think these are old cinema seats? I can’t quite remember. Anyway here they are from another angle. Beryl Cook exhibition painted chairs There are some wonderful nudes, all curves and rounds. But I haven’t quite got the nerve to post them here.

  5. Amanda

    Your use of the word “joyous” seems most apt, Joanna – these are such happy works. Like Celia, I love the old cinema seats, too and her sturdy, well -rounded ladies.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Amanda – pleased to hear you liked the post. I quite like her men too, they smile more than most men you see out and about ;)

  6. jan trounce

    I absolutely love Beryl Cook, I adore her view of the world and her sense of humour – I don’t have any prints just the greeting cards which I buy whenever I find them. Two other friends and I meet for lunch half-a-dozen times a year, we used to work together – I dubbed our trio ‘The Ravers’ because initially we would meet for dinner and would always be the last ones in the restaurant still talking and laughing – one of Beryl Cook’s cards shows three buxom ladies getting into a taxi, all dolled up, ready for a night on the town, complete with fish net stockings – that’s us (well, in a laughing heart anyway)!! You can’t but help see the world differently after you’ve gazed through Beryl Cook’s twinkling eyes. Thanks for the fun and the links, Joanna.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I don’t think she ever dressed up herself (not since her showgirl days anyway) she seemed to put all that side of her life into her paintings. Glad you liked the post Jan :D

  7. heidi

    Thanks for sharing this, Joanna.
    I have followed all your links and have so enjoyed getting to know her work and sense of humor!
    I have seen her work on greeting cards- but never taken the time to look into the background or the artist before.
    I really enjoyed this post!

    1. Joanna Post author

      You’re welcome Heidi! I am predictably, enchanted by her dogs and her pet tortoises, as well as her cats; they pop up in various pictures, providing a counterpoint to some of her more monumental people portraits.

      She said, in response to why she spent so much time on Plymouth Hoe, “I have to take the dog out” and chuckled.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Brian says they remind him of seaside postcards. Maybe I have been looking at them rather a lot recently. I found one she did with a poodle and a couple eating snails at a French railway station, all sat round the table together….

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