Early Portrait of John Bratby, R.A., 1954
Jean Cooke RA (1927 - 2008)
RA Collection: Art
This painting shows Jean Cooke’s husband, the artist John Bratby (1928 – 1992), and dog Collette sitting in their flat on the top floor of her father’s house. At the time, Cooke and Bratby were students together at the Royal College of Art and had married the previous year. The domestic setting and commonplace objects are characteristic of Cooke’s subject matter. Both Cooke and Bratby found inspiration in their everyday environment and made portraits of each other throughout their relationship. Indeed, the red tablecloth appears in a painting by Bratby, Still Life with Check Tablecloth (c.1960), also in the Royal Academy’s Collection. This reflects the humble reality that existed for many in post-War Britain, a time when many artists turned to their immediate surroundings for their subject matter.
Despite proving a fruitful and productive time for both artists, Cooke and Bratby’s was a troubled relationship. Bratby became increasingly controlling and aggressive over time, dictating when Cooke could work and slashing canvases he did not approve of. When they married in 1953, Cooke initially took her husband’s name and signed works ‘Jean Bratby’. As her reputation and artistic success increased however Bratby’s jealousy led to him demanding she use her maiden name, as he wanted to be the most famous Bratby. Their relationship had broken down by the 1970s and they eventually divorced in 1977. Cooke and Bratby had four children together, all depicted in their parents’ artworks, and who were themselves artistically talented.
This is one of four paintings by Cooke in the Royal Academy’s Collection. The others are all self-portraits, a preferred medium of self-expression for Cooke. Tragically in 2003, Cooke’s home in Blackheath, London, was destroyed in a catastrophic fire and many of her paintings were lost. She did however manage to save her favourite paintbrushes and tins of paint. She later mused that the fire almost felt like a liberation for her, as she was able to start afresh as an artist. This reaction highlights Cooke’s lifelong good-humour and positive outlook despite the hardships she experienced.
1220 mm x 914 mm x 25 mm
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