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OBITUARY: Beryl Cook.

SHE was firmly in the tradition of those great portrayers of the British at play, such as Donald McGill, of saucy seaside post card fame.

And as such she felt the full force of the British art establishment's ire that she was one of the UK's bestselling artists of all time. That her primitive portraits of larger-sized females touched a chord in the national psyche, leading to the tag of "the woman who paints fat ladies" only sealed her fate as purveyor to the country's immovable low-brow tastes.

Her other great rival for popularity, Jack Vettriano, has met with similar disdain.

Like Vettriano, her style is instantly recognisable.

Beryl Cook, who has died, aged 81, was the former seaside landlady who painted "ordinary people enjoying themselves" acutely detailing our happy breed's vulgar, raucous and obvious behaviour. Bottoms and bosoms were her speciality.

Fat matrons burst out of corsets with the full flush of sexual confidence, and chubby chavs cheerily disport themselves on beaches and in pubs.

Neither did she score on suffering for her art. She said she painted fat people as "the bigger they are, the less background there is to fill in" and in her prime painted a picture a fortnight, commanding pounds 20,000 a piece, with a client list including Jackie Collins and Whoopi Goldberg. Time Out refused to list her shows and the Tate never bought one work. Art critic Brian Sewell dismissed them as having "a kind of vulgar streak which has nothing to do with art".

Cook herself was thin, pathologically shy and neurotic. She never attended her shows and had a horror of formal social situations, refusing to meet the Queen to receive her OBE. Armchair psychologists quickly linked her pictures to expressing repressed desires and emotions.

Fame and wealth had little effect on her life of ordinariness, in a terrace house on Plymouth Hoe.

Deeply attached to the sea, her husband John's posting with a motor firm to Rhodesia and Zambia was stressful. But, in Zambia, John gave her a paint box on her 40th birthday and she took it up.

Back in Plymouth and hard up, the couple took in lodgers and one, an actor, spotted her work and recommended her to the arts centre director. The rest is history.

Beryl Cook, OBE, artist; born September 10, 1926, died May 28, 200
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:May 30, 2008
Words:392
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