The East London Group of Artists

The East London Group of Artists

After securing a record price for John Albert Cooper's oil on canvas ‘Wharfedale After Rain’ in our auction of Modern & Contemporary Art in April of this year, we delve further into the realms of the East London Group of artists, of which Cooper was leader.

4 May 2022

The East London Group of artists began with modest aspirations. Led by John Albert Cooper (1894-1943), a Slade School graduate who supplemented his income by teaching evening classes, its first students included a warehouser, a decorator, three deck hands and a haddock smoker. Around 30 active members, few of them with a formal education beyond elementary school, met twice a week first in Bethnal Green and then in Bow holding their first show in 1924.


John Albert Cooper CHARMOUTH

SOLD FOR £3,190 JULY 2018

John Albert Cooper (1894-1943)
Signed l.r., oil on canvas
56 x 69cm


Cooper was a charismatic figure. He had served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and then attended the Slade School of Fine Art. A professional painter of portraits and landscapes, he encouraged his students to see beauty in the most unlikely subjects, The local urban environment, rapidly changing in inter-war Britain, could be a source of inspiration. The celebrated Camden Town artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942), who became attached to the East London group in his late period, echoed Cooper’s belief that artists need not travel far. ‘There is no need to go to Bognor,’ he said. ‘You can go into the Tube’ he said in a lecture.


Walter Sickert BATH


Walter Richard Sickert ARA (1860-1942)
Signed and inscribed with title, pen and brown ink and grey and brown washes
21 x 26cm


Sickert was one of several professional ‘realist’ painters with middle-class London backgrounds who attached themselves to the ‘workmen artists’ of the East London Group. Notable among them were Slade School students Phyllis Bray (1911-91), the daughter of a diplomat who was briefly married to Cooper, and William Coldstream (1908-87), son of a doctor. They provided both occasional teaching assistance and added substance to a regular exhibition program.

The breakthrough event for the East London Group was a large show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery that attracted the attention of both the Tate gallery (part of the exhibition moved to Millbank marketed as ‘what British artisans can do in their spare time’) and the West End commercial gallery Alex, Reid & Lefevre. They agreed to give Cooper's students their first exhibition in November 1929 (Sickert's inclusion was certainly an important draw) and would go on to hold eight shows in total (the last in 1936 when Cooper withdrew from the Group).

Out of fashion for several generations, many of the pictures that featured in these exhibitions are again keenly collected today as part of the Modern British canon. Sworders have an excellent recent track record selling the work of John Albert Cooper in particular, posting a series of four-figure sums for oils depicting a range of subjects from Goldsborough Hall in Knaresborough to Lyme Regis Harbour. Another Dorset coastal subject, a painting from 1934 titled Charmouth, was picture number 60 in the sixth annual East London Group show at Alex, Reid & Lefevre Galleries. Offered for sale at the time for 18 guineas, it sold at Sworders in July 2018 for £3,250.


John Albert Cooper Wharfedale After Rain

SOLD FOR £3,900 APRIL 2022

John Albert Cooper (1894-1943)
‘Wharfedale After Rain’, 1932
signed 'JOHN COOPER' l.l., oil on canvas
55 x 63cm, unframed 


Cooper’s 1932 oil Wharfedale After Rain, again a painting exhibited as part of the East London Group, sold for £3,900 in April 2022- the highest price for the artist at auction.


If you have works by the East London Group of artists in your collection and are interested to learn their auction value, please contact - 

Amy Scanlon


T: 01279 817778




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