Heaton Cooper family art exhibition, Rheged Centre, Penrith

A new exhibition tells the story of one of Lakeland's most remarkable families

The fascinating story of the Lake District’s most famous family of artists is being told at the Rheged Centre, near Penrith. The exhibition involves archive artefacts and works by the Heaton Cooper family, an art dynasty founded by Alfred, who hailed from Bolton.

He was the son of mill workers but his talent with the paintbrush resulted in him studying in London before going out into the world to earn his living. He travelled extensively before returning to Bolton, then Southport, before settling in the Lake District where he hoped wealthy visitors would provide him with a better living. They still have a studio, open to the public, in Grasmere.

Heaton Cooper: A Family of Artists 1863–2012 contains items never seen in public and tells the story of the family through the extensive Heaton Cooper archive, which also consists of sketchbooks belonging to Alfred and his son William, together with personal photographs, letters, lecture notes and film that was not known to have existed.

The exhibition will feature selections by ten different artists, much of their work recording a way of life that no longer exists. Beginning with paintings and drawings by Alfred and William Heaton Cooper, visitors will be able to trace the social and landscape history of the Lake District from the 1880s to the present through paintings of its people, animals, farming and buildings, while also documenting the early development of Lakeland rock-climbing and Himalayan mountaineering.

There will also be a number of works by the family’s younger generation of artist, including Julian Cooper’s dramatic mountain paintings and impressive sculptural pieces by Ophelia Gordon Bell, including a vast stone relief commissioned by the Atomic Energy Authority in the 1950s.

The exhibition, opened by Lord Bragg, also brings together work by Winifred Gordon Bell, Lawrence Bell, Otalia Johnson, Linda Ryle, Hilary Yafai and Rebecca Heaton Cooper, offering an unprecedented study of the broad creative output of this highly significant family of artists. The exhibition, which runs until November 4, is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30-4.30pm.

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