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You are in: Devon > History > Famous Devonians > Beryl Cook: a Profile

A Beryl Cook painting

One of Beryl Cook's colourful paintings

Beryl Cook: a Profile

Artist Beryl Cook lived in Plymouth for much of her life, and her paintings depict some of the colourful characters she encountered in the city. She died peacefully in Plymouth in May 2008.

Beryl Cook painted for some 40 years. Well known and much loved in her home county of Devon, she was largely snubbed by the the nation's major art galleries.

Art critics also look down their noses at Beryl Cook's paintings of the colourful characters she has encountered in Plymouth, where she lived.

Born in Surrey in 1926, she first started to paint after using her young son's paint set.

When her family moved to Plymouth, Beryl and husband John (a seaman in the Merchant Navy) ran a busy theatrical boarding house.

It was here that her talents were discovered, when guests started to talk about the unique paintings on display.

Beryl Cook

Beryl Cook secretly sketches her subjects

A friend persuaded Beryl to try and sell some of the paintings - and, much to her surprise, they sold like hot cakes!

Her first exhibition was in 1975, since when her trademark pictures of larger than life characters have become well known the world over.

The Portal Gallery in London spotted her talent, and has held exhibitions of her work since the 1970s.

Beryl's first pictures were created on driftwood, picked up from the beach.

Speaking on the BBC's Culture Show, Beryl said: "I started painting on plywood, pieces of wardrobe, or anything handy that I found around the house, including lavatory seats."

Despite the art world's snooty view of Beryl's paintings, the public love them. The works sell for up to £40,000.

And in 2004, her boisterous characters starred in a two-part animated BBC TV series called Bosom Pals.

"I love it when I see people enjoying themselves. I'd quite like to be the one singing and dancing drunkenly in the middle of a crowd!"

Beryl Cook

Her paintings are full of flamboyant, colourful characters, many of them observed by Beryl at the Dolphin pub on Plymouth's Barbican, and recreated in caricature form on canvas.

"We've always visited this pub on the Barbican. We always go down there - only for a couple of hours on a Friday," said Beryl.

"I always loved the sailors. When the sailors were in, all the prostitutes were in. So we used to start at one end and visit all the little pubs.

"But it's all changed now - we very rarely see sailors. I don't think they're allowed to wear their uniforms out. And of course you can't really go out drinking in Union Street until half past ten - and now we are much too old for that."

Self taught, Beryl prepared every picture fastidiously. They bagan as little sketches on cards often drawn surreptitiously under cover of her handbag.

Painting of a woman in a pub

A night out in the Dolphin!

She spent weeks drawing her elaborate compositions. And she painted no-one unless it looked like they were having a good time.

In an interview with the BBC in 2006, she revealed: "I'm only motivated to paint by people enjoying themselves.

"If I saw something sad I wouldn't dream of painting that. It wouldn't mean anything to me to paint it. I might feel sorry for them, but I certainly wouldn't want to paint it.

"Human nature is immensely interesting to me and I accept it all, just as it is.

"I hope my pictures convey some of the pleasure, fury, amazement and delight I feel in activities going on around me."

"I love it when I see people enjoying themselves. I'd quite like to be the one singing and dancing drunkenly in the middle of a crowd!"

However, while she painted loud, flamboyant characters, Beryl herself was shy and didn't like being in the limelight. She didn't attend any of her gallery openings, and she didn't even turn up at Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE.

A character from the TV show, Bosom Pals

A character from the TV show, Bosom Pals

Beryl was always attracted to scenes peculiar to British working life. What other painters dismissed, she saw as treats from the streets.

"I love painting those big fags and I love people smoking all around me," she said.

"I feel much better when I'm painting. It isn't why I paint. I paint because I like doing it, but at the same time I wouldn't be worrying about anything else - only my painting."

Beryl's fans have started to fight back against the art snobs who have given her work the cold shoulder.

In 2007 they launched a campaign against the Tate Modern in London for spending thousands of pounds on a can of conceptual human excrement, and not buying a single painting by Beryl Cook.

The artist reamined unconcerned, however: "I don't see the point actually," she said. "What would they do with one of mine I ask you. And anyway, how can I compete with tins of you know what! Unless I paint them!"

For Beryl, it was not the idea of seeing her paintings hanging at the major galleries which thrilled her - it was the enjoyment they bring to people.

"They actually do still cheer people up and I'm awfully pleased about that."

last updated: 28/05/2008 at 13:44
created: 01/11/2006

Have Your Say

Use this form to send us your tributes to Beryl Cook.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

She was awesomeness.

nadine ridgewell
you where amazing beryl your art work will live forever!making people smile evrywhere,,you work was so specail to normal working class people ,,brilliant

she is aceum dude!!!

i love her pictures...doing it for my a level dance piece!!!! go cookies xxxxx

Mark Payne
Does anyone have a recording of 'bosom pals'. my wife has several 'beryls' and would love a copy. Long live Beryl you will be sadly missed.

Amber may findlay
I think its really realy good!

Terry Ivan - Ontario, Canada
We have 2 collages of Beryl's work in our family room.Three in the master bath and a ton of cards in the card holder.Our son obtained a signed copy of her "Bumper Edition". He was working in Portsmouth and he literally stalked her!!!Gave her the story about his mum who absolutely adored her.While in Portsmouth we were at the Dolphin many a night hoping to catch her. It was not to be.Now I would like to purchase a DVD of "Bosom Pals" - I'm on a mission.Thank you Beryl for your humour, love and life.

beryl luna of philippines
i can see that through beryl's painting that she love treasuring happy moments...i want to be a good painter like her.

mike and maxine evans new zealand
what a talent, we purchased a signed print in plymouth 8 years ago and is hanging in our stone cottage in roxburgh new zealand, it reminds us of the barbican, its people, and the extremes of pleasure when they go out, great life berryl

Jessica Appleby
she was a great lady and i loved her work.

Diane Sandison. northants. UK
I was so sad to hear that Beryl will not be painting for us again ,but surely they will have her enhancing the walls in a better place!I loved her & her work. Her paintings have given me sheer joy & laughter. My home is full of her pictures & lucky for me two limited edition prints which take pride of place. I will truely miss her ,the world is a sadder greyer place now.we can all hope that Beryl & john can now enjoy eternity together again...Condolances to the family & friends & Fans.

Ray tish Tidmarsh
great lady

Binnie and family
All our love to both Johns and family.Beryl was and will always be wonderful.The picture she painted of my children dancing in Looe is still so special to all of us,but even more so the memories of lovely moments spent together.

Clifford Pinnington
Beryl’s pictures made me smile, they also made me laugh.We shouldn’t take life to seriously. Not by Half Thank you Beryl Cook

Pat Devers
She has been ointment to me. A very sensitive woman who has learnt to cope with life by observing one way to cope is by observing people enjoying themselves even if under the influence of alcohol

Her work always raised a smile. She will be sadly missed. Hopefully she will be painting joyeous cherubs where she is now. Condolences to her nearest and dearest

Judith Ramsay
Last year, the Baltic in Gateshead, had an exhibition of Beryl's paintings, and had everyone giggling. Well done, Beryl!

ella sedgwick
what a joy her painting's are ,she ought to have been more widely acclaimed shame on us!

Beryl Cook thank you for giving me the start of my interest in and off art.I was lost but then found.R.I.P X

carol senft
Knew Beryl when she lived behind me in Atheanum St,I used to watch her and her little doggy in the garden.She has always been a part of my life I will cherish. Will miss her on Saturday mornings in Sainsburys doing her shopping. Thoughts are with her family at this very sad time. COME ON PLYMOUTH,LETS HAVE A ART GALLERY FOR ALL THE PLYMOUTH ARTIST.MAYBE IN THE ROYAL WILLIAM YARD!!!!

Not that I would call myself an art lover... I always got a little smile on my face when I passed some of her work when drinking on the Barbican - Next time in the Dolphin, I will raise my glass to her!

Neil Slaughter
Sad indeeed. Should I expect my limited editions to increase in value?

Chris Jory
Will be sadly missed, I very much admired Beryls work. I often used to have a chuckle to myself brousing round the Barbican.

Jane Squire
I have loved Beryl's painting for years and was lucky enough to be given a signed print for my birthday just last month. I shall treasure it even more now. Thank you Beryl for making me laugh.

James Curtis
Beryl's paintings have never failed to raise a smile with me. If only for the finger with the lady bowls players, or a friend at age 9 being obsessed with the busty lady with a whip. We're gonna miss you Beryl.

Stuart Raddy
I am sure that she started he painting in LOOE in the 70s befor moving to Plymouth once again no-body gets the facts right.

All visitors to my home comment on my Beryl Cooks, it's a very sad loss.

Chrissy Richardson
My heartfelt thoughts go to Beryl's Family.Comfort should be taken in the fact that her amazing talent produced honest,truthful works of art which are treasured, viewed and remembered.She will be sadly missed but will continue to bring happiness through her pictures for many years to come.God Bless Her x

Nigel Redmond
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Beryl Cook. No doubt she is in heaven observing some chubby cherubs to put in her next picture. !

Simon Tapper
Born and bred in Plymouth,I "grew up" with Beryl's works.Although a great loss her wonderful paintings will always remind me of home and bring a smile to my face.

I am absolutely devastated at this great loss to british culture. yes i say culture, even if certain art galleries and critics looked down at her art. her art was amazing, true to life, exciting, something fresh to the eye everytime you look at the pictures. i love her art, i loved her love of life and will miss her tremendously

Norma kingdon
colourful charaactor great sense of fun what a talent

John Stapleton.plymouth
i met her sat in the corner of the "Dolphin"she reminded me so much of my grandmother.her paintings were alive...

She should have painted a picture of a big fat lady sticking two fingers up at the art world. A wonderful painter and cartoonist. RIP.

Dennis Davenport
What a sad loss, my late Wife and I both loved Beryl Cook`s paintings and started collecting prints nearly 30 years ago. The Art Class remains my firm favourite. The Art Establishment could not recognise genius if it was the size of a London bus and ran over them.

Trish Ogilvie
Beryl's pictures could not help but make you smile.

The real joy of life observed and preserved!

Chris Smejkal
It is very sad to hear the news of Beryl Cook. I am a fan and own "the car boot sale" and gare du Nord...they cheer me up every day..

She painted people's expressions so well and they way they stand - I saw one of her pictures of a man with a plate of egg and chips and it was my husband to the life! Rest in peace dear Beryl, you've given us such pleasure.

joy dye
i loved her work it always put a smile on my face. i am very soory that she is no longer able to entertain us

Brenda Campbell
I think she was great. Her art reminds me of Jenny Joseph's poem - "When I am old I shall wear purple". She made life seem such a brilliant thing. God rest her soul.

peter frater ( oxford )
i am very sorry that beryl has passed away she will be greatly missed in the art world and by her fanssent 28/05/08

julia balmer
Dear Beryl gave me so much pleasure from her paintaings. I shall miss her so much as will millions of her fans. RIP

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