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Cooke has made some of the most fiercely original and moving self portraits in modern British art. In her late twenties, she painted this 1955 self portrait. A disquietingly intense female figure is seen against a greyish-yellowish background. The work has obsessive notes of shocking freshness within a cool, abstract composition. The dark top, the long, brown hair, the huge, staring eyes, bold red cheeks and reddened nose, are all most urgently seen and felt.
In a letter to Borchard, Cooke wrote of the collection’s small number of female artists: 'I am not a feminist but to have only 3 women painters out of 91 make [sic] rather poor odds so 21 gns it is.’ Characteristically, she then went straight to the point: ‘Are you going to come and pick up the painting?’
Dunn spoke of the ‘the quite spare and lyrical’ quality of Cooke’s portraits, going on to say, ‘Yet, like her, they have a sense of the unpredictable.’
oil on canvas
H 41 x W 36 cm
acquired by Ruth Borchard as part of the original collection