Cooper RBA ARCA, Alfred Egerton (1883-1974)

Cooper RBA ARCA, Alfred Egerton (1883-1974)
Cooper RBA ARCA, Alfred Egerton (1883-1974)

British artist Alfred Egerton Cooper was primarily known for portraiture but also produced landscapes, murals, and figurative work. He’s celebrated as one of Britain’s finest portrait painters during World War I, having produced numerous works depicting members of the armed forces. He served as a captain in the RAF before losing the sight in one eye following a chlorine gas attack. Aside from his portraits, he also worked as an official artist to the RAF, undertaking numerous perilous missions whereby he’d hang suspended from an airship while clutching his painting equipment.

During World War II, he produced an iconic portrait of Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was notoriously difficult to please. During an interview, he recalled how Churchill would insist on observing every brushstroke via a mirror behind the artist. He produced five portraits of Churchill in total. Cooper was also a close friend of ‘dam buster’ and inventor, Barnes Wallis.

He trained at the Royal College of Art and in the studio of John Singer Sargent. His works are held in numerous public collections including the National Portrait Gallery, Government Art Collection, and Imperial War Museum. His son, Peter Cooper, also became an artist.


Royal Academy, Royal College of Art, Paris Salon, Leger's Galleries, RW3 Galleries in London, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Parkin Gallery in Belgravia London, Chelsea Art Society, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters, The Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, The Manchester Art Gallery, The Royal Society of Arts.

Public Collections

National Portrait Gallery, Government Art Collection, Christ’s Hospital, 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards Heritage Trust, Guildhall Art Gallery, Hunterian Museum, Imperial War Museum, Parliamentary Art Collection, The National Horseracing Museum, The University of Reading, West Dunbartonshire Libraries.



Born in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, England, to Alfred John Cooper, a railway clerk and political agent, and Sarah Hannah Sturges Cooper (nee Speed).


Lived in Wolverhampton with his parents and sister.


Lived in Bilston, Staffordshire, with his parents, sister and widowed grandmother. Occupation listed as ‘artist/painter’.

C. 1906-1911

Enrolled at the Royal College of Art. Worked in the studio of John Singer Sargent.


Lived at Jubilee Place, Chelsea, London.


Lived with his uncle, Thomas Millard, a jeweller's assistant, in West Kensington. Occupation listed as ‘art student’.
Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘The Pardon’.


Lived at Seaton Street, Cheyne Walk, SW, London.


Elected a member of The Royal Society of British Artists.

C. 1915

Served in World War I in the Artists Rifles and then as a captain in the RAF. His right eye was permanently damaged by chlorine gas, but he was still able to draw.


Following his injury, he became a war artist and was appointed official artist of the RAF. He produced numerous works depicting airships.


Married Irene Florence Clements. His best man was Barnes Wallis, the British inventor.

C. 1920 - C. 1970.

Worked from his studio at Glebe Place, Chelsea, London.


Lived at Jubilee Place, Chelsea, SW3, London.


Daily Mirror

“He is unashamedly old-fashioned. He paints what he sees and dismisses more modern trends with a wave of the hand ... Though of the same generation as Picasso, he dislikes all this rubbish ... Picasso was good during – what do you call it – the Blue Period. But then, when he started doing all these things ... Mind you, he was never great, even during the Blue Period.”


Received an honourable mention at the Paris Salon.


Lived at Glebe Place, Chelsea, SW3, London.


Travelled with his wife to Kingston, Jamaica, aboard the Patuca.


Produced a portrait of King George VI in his naval uniform.


Produced a portrait of Winston Churchill. He completed five portraits of Churchill in total.
Lived at Jubilee Place, SW3, London.


Lived at Glebe Place, SW3, London.


Competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics.


Undertook various restoration projects for John Laviers Wheatley.


Lived in London, SW3.
Travelled to Colombo, Ceylon. Returning aboard the Strathaird.


Attended Westminster Hospital for a cornea grafting operation.


Marylebone Mercury

“Time has passed by the work of Alfred Egerton Cooper. He is unashamedly old fashioned. He paints what he sees and dismisses more modern trends with a wave of the hand. The 86-year-old artist is primarily a portrait painter. He boasts pictures of George VI, Churchill and countless earls. But the art world is hard on those who do not follow trends and Mr. Cooper has difficulty these days in finding somewhere to show his work. So he is opening to the public the studio in Glebe Place, Chelsea where he has worked for the past half-century.

His collection of more than 100 paintings there includes portraits, landscapes and nudes, all painted with traditional skill and realism. He is particularly proud of one bearded face which watches from the wall. It is his grandfather the first portrait he painted at 18. ‘I hadn't had one lesson at the time,’ he said, ‘And I couldn't do it any better today.’

Some 50 years later he painted the last portrait of Churchill. ‘I used tempera. Churchill insisted on seeing every stroke painted. We had to fix up a mirror so he could watch me working,’ said Mr. Cooper. Three days after that sitting for Mr. Cooper, Churchill had a stroke.

But today the camera has taken a large amount of bread from the portrait painter's mouth, and Mr. Cooper admits that without his trips to America, the living would have been hard in the last decade. His son is married to an American and living in the States. Mr. Cooper made the trip across the Atlantic eight times during the 60s. He has been a professional painter all his life. He studied at the Royal Academy. He considers John Sargent his greatest influence - he studied under Sargent for a time.

Though of the same generation as Picasso, he dislikes ‘all this rubbish.’ ‘Picasso was good during .. what do you call it ... the Blue Period. But then. when he started doing all these things.. ‘Mind you, he was never great even during the Blue Period.’ The studio in Glebe Place will be open until March 7.”


Interviewed on BBC Radio Two by John Dunn.


Died in Chelsea, London.

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