Eileen Cooper




Throughout her career, Eileen Cooper (born 1953) has made figurative paintings that encompass themes of fertility, sexuality, motherhood, life and death. A Keeper of the Royal Academy for almost a decade, Cooper’s work offers up a prescient and insightful magical realism evoked through bright colours and graphic outlines.

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Watch : In the Studio with Eileen Cooper

Eileen Cooper RA introduces her 2019 exhibition, Personal Space, from her South London studio.

Early Life and Training

Eileen Cooper was born in 1953, in Glossop in the Derbyshire Peak District. She studied at Goldsmiths School of Art from 1971 until 1974, before completing an MA in painting at the Royal College of Art in 1977.

Artistic Practice

Cooper rose to prominence as an artist in the 1980s, during which time she also held teaching posts at both St Martins School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. Throughout her career, Cooper has made figurative paintings that encompass themes of fertility, sexuality, motherhood, life and death. Cooper produces work from an unapologetically female perspective, often containing a strong autobiographical element. Her vision encompasses a wide emotional range, with an allegorical approach. As well as the female figure, animals and objects enter Cooper’s compositions, often playing symbolic or totemic roles.

Her motif-filled imagery has often been described as magical realism, although she has cited Indian, Persian and Egyptian art as influences on her paintings. Her rich and sometimes expressionistic use of colour, as well as her use of strong and simplified line has been likened to the works of Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, as well as to Expressionists Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Selected Exhibitions and Collections

Cooper became a Royal Academician in 2001 and served as Keeper of the Royal Academy between 2010 and 2017. Selected out of 80 Royal Academicians, Cooper was given primary responsibility for the Royal Academy Schools, and became the first woman to be elected in this role in the Royal Academy’s 250-year history.

In 2017, Cooper curated and co-ordinated the Royal Academy of Arts’ 249th annual Summer Exhibition. She has had numerous international exhibitions, including solo exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. Her work is held in several important collections including The Arts Council Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum, London.

Awards and Publications

In 2016, Cooper was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to Art and Art Education. She is an Honorary Fellow at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge, and the Royal College of Art; and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Southampton Solent University in 2014.

She has been the subject of numerous publications, including Eileen Cooper: A Woman’s Skin by Meredith M Hale and Philip Lindley, and Eileen Cooper: Between the Lines by Martin Gayford.

Exhibition In Focus: Personal Space

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