by Old Plymouth Society
Published August 2017
BERYL COOK OBE
Born in September 1926 in Surrey, she received no formal training and only took up painting in her thirties. She had an almost photographic
memory. She never enjoyed acceptance by the art establishment.
She worked as a model and a showgirl and married a childhood friend, John. They lived in Southern Rhodesia for ten years and then returned and lived in Looe. They moved to Plymouth in 1968 where they bought and ran a guest house in Alfred Street on the Hoe. They lived there with their two dogs and tortoises. In 1994 Beryl received a Best Selling Published Art Award and in 1995 the OBE. Due to her shyness she did not attend the
official ceremony but accepted the award at a smaller more private event in Plymouth.
The Post Office reproduced one of her paintings as a First Class postage stamp. The Royal Couple painting featured in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Exhibition in London. Two animated films featuring characters from her paintings have also been made. Best known for her depiction of people at leisure, pub drinkers, girls shopping, beach picnics, drag shows and
dancing, her work triggered both amusement and considerable interest for many people and Beryl became hugely popular throughout the world. She died in May 2008 and was cremated at Weston Mill cemetery. Currently, there is a plan to create a Beryl Cook trail. Fifteen to thirty life size statues drawn from her most famous works will be placed in various places around the City to form an art trail.
SIR CHARLES LOCK EASTLAKE
Charles was born in Plymouth, at the corner of the Parade, on the Barbican, in 1793. At that time his father was solicitor to the Admiralty. He was
educated at the Plymouth and Plympton Grammar Schools, and studied for a short time at Charterhouse, London. He decided to take up painting as his profession, partly through the example and influence of his fellow-townsman, Haydon. He began his career as a portrait painter. The return of Napoleon from Elba caused the young painter to leave Paris, where he had been
working in the Louvre, and return to Plymouth. When the Bellerophon visited Plymouth, with Napoleon on board, Eastlake made some careful sketches of the Emperor, as he stood at the gangway of the ship, and from those, he produced the last portrait of Napoleon to have been painted in Europe. In 1817 Eastlake went to Italy. In 1819 he visited Greece, then returned to Rome the following year where he lived for several years painting many
pictures. He appeared as an exhibitor in London, at the British Institution, as early as 1820, and at the Royal Academy in 1823, where he exhibited three views of Rome. He was employed by the Royal Commission for the
decorating of the New Palace of Westminster in 1841, a position he held to the day of his death; and he was also engaged in many literary works. In 1843, on the death of the original keeper of the National Gallery, the
appointment was given to Eastlake, which after a troubled tenure of the
office for four years, he resigned. In 1850 he became President of the Royal
Academy, and consequently he was knighted by the Queen. In 1855, on the resignation of the National Gallery Management, he accepted the post of
director, an office giving greater responsibility, and far greater power than his previous office as keeper. In 1849 he married Elizabeth Rigby, an art
historian and author. They were regarded as the great power couple of the contemporary art world. He died on Christmas Eve 1865 in Pisa and was
originally buried in Florence. However, at the desire of the Royal Academy his body was returned to England and buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London.
BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON
Born in Plymouth in 1786, he was the son of a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher in the town. He attended Plymouth and Plympton Grammar Schools before going off to London to attend Royal Academy schools. He specialised in grand historical pictures, some contemporary subjects and
reluctantly, portraits. He was tactless when dealing with patrons and this
affected his commercial success. Added to this was his insistence about working on an enormous scale.
He was troubled by financial problems throughout his life, leading to several spells of imprisonment for debt. He committed suicide in 1846 and is buried in London. His stormy career up until 1821 was recorded in his
autobiography, which with selections from his journals covering the rest of his life was published in 1853.The complete text of his extensive diaries was finally published in 1960. These insights into his private thoughts
highlighted that he had many literary acquaintances and with his gift of
being able to write well, gave intimate glimpses of character of these
celebrated people of his time.
Born in 1941 to Jewish parents, his mother’s father was the court painter to King Ludwig of Bavaria. His parents ran a hotel in London for elderly Jewish people and from an early age, Robert was exposed to death and human suffering. His obsession with painting began at the early age of 9, when he produced paintings using brushes made from his own hair. At 16 years of age he was accepted at St Martin’s School of Art, on the strength of a
portfolio of anatomical drawings of dissected pigeons! Leaving home shortly afterwards, he lived rough on the streets of London for a time. He met his first wife, Celia Mills whilst working in the canteen at St Martin’s. They married in 1964. He enrolled at the Royal Academy in 1962 and had studios in Hampstead. Being a difficult neighbour, he was pressurised by the local council and began spending more and more time at Gunnislake in Cornwall, where he taught art at St Anne’s Primary School. The family moved to Plymouth in 1966. He continued his association with vagrants and alcoholics. In 1969 he was given studio space on the Barbican. He hung a sign : ‘The Portrait Painter’ outside his building, and began offering
commissioned oil portraits and quick pencil sketches of people or pets for £2. He had a personal collection of over a quarter of a million books, many of them about the occult and his obsession with death as well as one of them dating back to 1420.
In February 1981 Robert placed his own obituary in The Times newspaper. He had encouraged his brother to report that his health had been
deteriorating. During the ten days before his supposed death was rumbled, partly due to the fact that no body had been discovered, Robert was in
hiding at Port Eliot, the home of his friend and patron, Earl of St Germans, and whilst there he painted The Riddle Mural on the walls of the 12 meter diameter Round Room. In March 2002 he announced his long term dream of creating a complex of libraries and galleries fronted by an enormous stained glass window on Plymouth’s waterfront. He hoped it would be built within the next 20 or 30 years as a place to study ‘obsessive behaviour, from territorial wars to falling in love’.
He died after a heart complaint in August 2002. He left behind a
particularly macabre legacy. Tucked in a secret drawer of a bookcase, was the embalmed corpse of a tramp, which had lain there for 18 years. This was Diogenes, who he had befriended many years before and indeed had painted many times.
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS
Reynolds was considered the greatest painter of his generation, more celebrated than Constable, more in demand than Turner. His prolific
portraits captured celebrities of the day including several generations of the same family and many titled people of the aristocracy. The son of Samuel, the headmaster at Plympton Grammar School who was also a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, Joshua was born in 1723. He was
apprenticed to Thomas Hudson, London portraitist, at the age of 17. He spent the next three years abroad, mainly in Italy. On his return he set up practice in London and soon established himself as a leading portrait painter. He was a key figure in the intellectual life in London, and a friend of Dr Johnson. He started a literature club and lectured on art and
philosophy as well as literature. He became the court painter to George III and was knighted by him. When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, he was elected as its first President. It is said that his paintings are not perfectly preserved due to faulty techniques. The carmine reds have faded and the bitumen used in the blacks has tended to crack. He produced over 3000 works of art, and even after a mild stroke and the deterioration of his sight in his left eye, he endeavoured to find new ways of painting. He died in 1792 and is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. His pall bearers included three dukes, two marquesses, three earls, a viscount and a baron.
Joshua had a talented sister, born in 1729, who was 6 years younger than her brother. She was christened Frances Reynolds but was known
affectionately as Fanny. The two siblings spent a large part of their lives together. She became his housekeeper in 1752 and continued in this role for more than 20 years. He asked her to leave when her nieces were old enough to take over from her. She had been described as a most difficult woman and had a nasty temper. She regularly remonstrated with Joshua about his habit of painting on a Sunday. He ignored the religious day of rest by saying that no one would make an artist if they looked to a Sunday as a day of rest and pleasure. To annoy Fanny further, he would often spend time gambling with John Parker, 1st Baron of Boringdon at Saltram House. However, Fanny was considered an excellent painter of
miniatures, as well as a reasonable portrait painter. A portrait of James Harris, a philosopher, critic and politician hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.