Beryl Cook, British (1926 - 2008)

Beryl Frances Tansley was born in 1926 at Epsom in Surrey, one of four sisters. She grew up in Reading in Berkshire where she attended Kendrick School, a selective girls' school near the centre of the town. Beryl left school at fourteen, and worked in a variety of jobs. Moving to London in 1943, she became a showgirl in a touring production of The Gypsy Princess. She also worked in the fashion industry.

In 1946 she married her childhood friend John Cook, who was in the Merchant Navy. When he retired from the sea, they briefly ran a pub. Their son John was born in 1950, and the following year they left to live in Southern Rhodesia. One day she picked up some paints, belonging to her son, and started a picture. She carried on doing so, using various materials, painting on scraps of wood, fire screens and a breadboard. An early painting is Bowling Ladies.

In 1963, the Cooks returned to England to live in Cornwall, where she began to paint seriously. They moved to Plymouth, a port city, where they ran a busy theatrical boarding house in the summer months. They enjoyed going to local bars and watching flamboyant drag acts. She concentrated on painting in the winter months, recreating her personal views of Plymouth in oils on wooden panels. An antique dealer friend persuaded her to let him try and sell a few, and they sold quickly.

Never formally trained, Beryl Cook first started painting nearly forty years ago, after introducing her small son to his box of watercolours. since then she has received great popular and critical acclaim.


In 1995 Queen Elizabeth awarded Beryl an OBE ( Order of the British Empire ) for “services to art”. Her characters have been featured on Royal Mail Stamps in the company of Rodin and Renoir but so far have been overlooked by the Tate Gallery.


Beryl’s paintings have been included in the Peter Moores exhibition at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, where she was seen in the context of mainstream contemporary art, alongside Bridget Riley and Victor Pasmore. Several touring exhibitions of her paintings have visited galleries and museums around the UK. The new Glasgow Museum of Modern Art has recently acquired some of her original work ensuring her place in the annals of British art history.


Beryl Cook has created a genre as immediately recognizable as Lowry’s matchstick people of Donald McGill’s saucy postcard characters, yet she is modest about her achievement. She insists she leads a very mundane life. Her fat frolicsome people follow no party line, preach no philosophy, punch home no message other than the oblique unstated one that their creator has found through them her own pathway to a happy and fulfilled life.

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