Alfred Egerton Cooper (1883–1974)
British artist known for painting portraits, figure subjects and landscapes
By Alexandra A. Jopp
Resident of Chelsea, England, Alfred Egerton Cooper, was best known for portraits of King George VI and Winston Churchill, as well as for landscapes, coastal, harbor and horse racing scenes
VII. Suggested Resource
Alfred Egerton Cooper was an internationally acclaimed portraitist who also painted landscapes, coastal and harbor views of Great Britain and horse racing scenes. His style emphasized deep realism, and his glittering career hinged on the glamour he imparted to European royalty, Buckingham Palace, the British Parliament and rich and powerful public figures. Ambitious and technically skilled, he fulfilled countless royal commissions and had some of the most powerful and notable people in Britain sit for portraits.
Alfred Egerton Cooper was born in 1883 in Tettenhall, Staffordshire, United Kingdom. Showing early artistic leanings, he studied at Bilston School of Art and on a scholarship at London’s Royal College of Art, from which he graduated in 1911. At the age of 18, he exhibited for the first of 40 times at the Royal Academy.
Following his graduation, Cooper entered a competition for which John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), a cosmopolitan expatriate internationally celebrated for grand-manner portraits, notable landscapes, and genre scenes, was on the board of judges. Astonished by the young artist’s work, Sargent asked Cooper to work with him in his famous Tite Street studio in Chelsea, which had once belonged to James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Cooper spent about a year as Sargent’s assistant, painting backgrounds and details for his paintings. He was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1914.
During World War I, Cooper served in the well-known 28th County of London Volunteer Regiment, the Artists Rifles, and his sight in one eye was damaged by chlorine gas. At the end of the war, he was made an official artist of the Royal Air Force, and he became an expert in the art and technique of large-scale aerial camouflage and sketching and painting landscapes from the air. Some of his works are now in the Royal Air Force Museum and London’s Imperial War Museum.
In 1917, Cooper met the woman who would become his wife near Romford, Essex, where her parents entertained local officers at their home. They had a son, Peter C. Cooper, who would become an artist in the United States.
The elder Cooper’s career continued to develop as he became known for both portraits and landscapes. He exhibited his work in Paris and London, and in 1921, his painting London was a notable feature of the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. Three years later, he won an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon. He also exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and Goupil Gallery. In 1940, he painted King George VI, and his 1943 portrait of Winston Churchill was reproduced as a poster intended to rally the English people during World War II.
Cooper made annual excursions to the American midwest in the 1960s. He died in 1974.
1883 Born in Tettenhall, Staffordshire, U.K.
1911 Graduated on a scholarship from London’s Royal College of Art
1914 Elected to Royal Society of British Artists
1914-18 Served as captain in Artists Rifles during World War I
1939 Commissioned to paint two portraits of King George VI
1943 Profile For Victory, a portrait of Winston Churchill, exhibited at Royal Academy and later published as a morale-boosting poster
1954 Commissioned to paint Light Brigade Ball, centennial celebration honoring Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava during the Crimean War
1960 Made annual excursions to the American midwest
London’s Imperial War Museum
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
Royal Air Force Museum
Goupil Gallery, London, UK
Leger Gallery, London, UK
Leicester Gallery, London, UK
Manchester City Art Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
Royal Institute of Oil Painters
Royal Institute of painters in Water Colours
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Chelsea Arts Club
The Carlton Club, London, UK
VII. Suggested Resources
Buckman, David. Artists in Britain since 1945, Vol I. Bristol: Art Dictionaries, Ltd. 2006.
Stewart, Brian. Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Antique Collectors Club, 1997.