Partner John Richardson
Repton School, Willington Rd, Repton, Derby DE65 6FH, UK
University Of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2, UK
Sorbonne, Sorbona, Parigi, Francia
Château de Castille, Chemin du Château, 30210 Argilliers, Francia
'''(Arthur William) Douglas Cooper''', who also published as '''Douglas
Lord''' (20 February 1911 – 1 April 1984) was a British art historian, art
critic and art collector. He mainly collected Cubist
Early in the 19th century, Cooper's forebears had emigrated to Australia and acquired great wealth, in particular property in Sydney. His great-grandfather Daniel Cooper became a member of the New South Wales legislature and was the first Speaker of the new Legislative Assembly in 1856. He was made a baronet in 1863 and spent his time both in Australia and England, eventually settling permanently in England, and dying in London. His son and grandson also lived there and sold their Australian property in the 1920s, very much to Douglas's annoyance.
Douglas's mother came from old-established English aristocracy. His biographer and longtime partner John Richardson considered his suffering from the social exclusion of his family by his countrymen to be a defining characteristic of his friend,clarify explaining in particular his Anglophobia. Cooper never visited Australia and proposed that he might have been conceived there during the honeymoon of his parents.
As a teenager, his erudite uncle Gerald Cooper took him on a trip to Monte Carlo, where Cooper saw the Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company; his biographer traces an arc from here to Cooper's late work ''Picasso et le Théatre''. He went to Repton School and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1930 with a third in the French section and a second (division 2) in the French section of the Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos. When he was 21, he inherited £100,000, enabling him to study art history at the Sorbonne, in Paris and at the University of Freiburg in Germany, which was not possible at the time in Cambridge.
In 1933, he became a partner in the ''Mayor Gallery'' in London and planned to show works of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró and Paul Klee in collaboration with Paris-based art dealers like Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Pierre Loeb (1897–1964); however, this collaboration ended fast and unfavourably. Cooper was paid out in works of art.
Cooper attributed this failure not least to the conservative policy of the Tate Gallery; according to Richardson, his resentment was the catalyst for the structure of his own collection, which should prove the backwardness of the Tate Gallery. At the outbreak of the Second World War 1939, he had acquired 137 cubist works, partly with the help of collector and dealer Dr. Gottlieb Reber (1880–1959), some of them masterpieces, using a third of his inheritance.
Cooper was not eligible for regular military service, due to an eye injury, so he chose to join a medical unit in Paris when World War II started, commanded by the art patron Etienne de Beaumont, who had commissioned works by Picasso and Georges Braque, among others. His account of the transfer of wounded soldiers to Bordeaux to be shipped to Plymouth achieved some fame when published in 1941 by him and his co-driver C. Denis Freeman (''The Road to Bordeaux''). For this action, he received a French ''Médaille militaire''.
Back in Liverpool Cooper was arrested as a spy because of his French uniform, missing papers and improper behaviour, a treatment for which he never forgave his fellow countrymen. Subsequently, he joined the Royal Air Force Intelligence unit and was sent to Cairo as an interrogator, a job at which he was enormously successful in squeezing out secrets from even hard-boiled prisoners, not least due to his “‘evil queen’ ferocity, penetrating intelligence, and refusal to take no for an answer, as well as his ability to storm, rant, and browbeat in Hochdeutsch, dialect, or argot, which were just the qualifications that his new job required.”. He enjoyed the social life there greatly.
After a short interlude in Malta, he was assigned to a unit trying to investigate into Nazi looted art: ''Royal Air Force Intelligence, British Element, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives'' (MFAA). He was very successful, his most eminent discovery being the ''Schenker Papers'' which made it possible to prove that Paris dealers, Swiss collectors, German experts and museums, in particular the Museum Folkwang in Essen were deeply engaged in looting Jewish property and ''entartete Kunst'' as well as building collections for Hitler and Hermann Göring (Schenker was the transport company shipping art to Germany, having excellent bookkeeping).
Equally amazing to MFAA investigators was his detailed research on the Swiss art trade during the war; it turned out that many dealers and collectors had been involved in trading looted art. Cooper spent the whole month of February 1945 as emissary of the MFAA and the correspondent organization of the French, interrogating dealers and collectors having dealt with the Nazis and especially Theodor Fischer of the Fischer Gallery who in 1939 managed the sale of confiscated "degenerate" artworks.
He was particularly proud to have found and arrested the Swiss Charles Montag, one of Hitler's art advisors, who had assembled a private art collection of mostly stolen items for the Führer and was involved in the liquidation of the Paris gallery Bernheim-Jeune; surprisingly, Montag was quickly released. Cooper arrested him again immediately, only to see him set free once again, due to Montag's good connections to Winston Churchill, who refused to believe that his longtime friend and teacher "good old Montag“ could have done anything objectionable.
After the Second World War, Cooper returned to England, but could not settle in his native country and moved to southern France, where in 1950 he bought the Château de Castille near Avignon, a suitable place to show his impressive art collection, which he continued to expand with newer artists like Klee and Miró. During the following years, art historians, collectors, dealers and artists flocked to his home which had become something like an epicenter of Cubism, very much to his pride.
Léger and Picasso were regular guests; the latter even became a substantial part of its life. He regarded Picasso as the only genius of the 20th century and he became a substantial promoter of the artist. Picasso tried several times to induce Cooper to sell his castle to him; however, he would not agree and finally in 1958 recommended to Picasso the acquisition of Château of Vauvenargues.
In 1950, he became acquainted with art historian John Richardson, sharing his life with him for the next 10 years. Richardson moved to Provence in southern France in 1952, as Cooper acquired Château de Castille in the vicinity of Avignon and transformed the run-down castle into a private museum of early Cubism. Cooper had been at home in the Paris art scene before World War II and had been active in the art business as well; by building his own collection, he also met many artists personally and introduced them to his friends. Richardson and Cooper became close friends of Picasso, Fernand Léger and Nicolas de Staël as well. At that time Richardson developed an interest in Picasso's portraits and contemplated creating a publication; more than 20 years later, these plans expanded into Richardson's four-part Picasso biography ''A Life of Picasso''. In 1960, Richardson left Cooper and moved to New York City.
Cooper published frequently in The Burlington Magazine and wrote numerous monographs and catalogues about artists of the 19th century, including Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, but also about the Cubists he collected. He was among the first art critics to write about modern art with the same erudition common for artists of the past; in the years before the Second World War, he was a pioneer in this respect. When his catalogue of the exhibition ''The Courtauld Collection'' appeared in 1954, The Times wrote about it: “it is not easy to think of another critic who has so consistently applied to modern painting the scholarship normally used in the study of the works of the more distant past.” THE TIMES: ''Benefactor of Art: Courtauld and His Collection''.
His most important achievement is probably the catalogue raisonné of Juan Gris, which he completed in 1978, six years before his death, and 40 years after beginning it. He was Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford from 1957 to 1958 and guest professor at Bryn Mawr and Courtauld Institute in 1961.
Towards his life's end, he was honoured by being appointed the first foreign patron of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, which made him very proud. In gratitude, he donated his best Gris to the Prado, ''Portrait of the Artist's Wife'' from 1916, and a cubist ''Still Life with Pigeons'' by Picasso. His only other donation went to the Kunstmuseum Basel; the Tate Gallery didn't receive anything. Cooper died on 1 April 1984 (''Fools' Day''), perhaps completely fitting, as he predicted. He left an incomplete catalogue raisonné of Paul Gauguin and his art collection to his adopted son William McCarty Cooper (having adopted him according to French law, in order that nobody else would inherit anything, in particular not his family). His written legacy is kept at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE