Art, Fragility, Power & Beauty – Michelle Pearson Cooper

By Art Contributor Theo Woodham-Smith

Michelle Pearson Cooper (born 1957) lives in an Oxfordshire farmhouse, described by friends  as ‘always full of laughter’,  with her husband, Justin Cadbury (of the chocolate dynasty), and their two dogs, ‘reigning princes in their lives’:  Kilo the Labrador, and Wizard, the’ beautiful lurcher, saluki deerhound cross, who is very fast!’ 

She explains her compulsion to paint as a child:  ‘I never thought of any other career but that of an artist.’  When I was seven years old, I was drawing with the other children, and my headmaster asked: ‘ where does the sky end?  Paint what you see … ‘ That was my Eureka moment.’ I realised I should be painting what I saw for myself, not what anyone else was doing’. 

She won a rare art scholarship to Millfield School before continuing art studies in Florence with ‘La Signorina’ Nerina Simi (1890-1987) described by Royal portrait painter Pietro Annigoni as ‘the greatest art teacher of the 20th century’ venerated by generations of pupils. Annigoni has painted portraits of HM The Queen, superb in her Garter robes.

Fifteen solo shows followed this rigorous training, from her first in 1979 in Old Bond Street to Pall Mall in 2016.  Invited to exhibit in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1994,  animal portraits in charcoal, watercolour and oil, glitzy collectors liked a refreshing lack of sentiment.  Everything sold in hours. International commissions swiftly followed.

Michelle speaks from the heart:  ‘I love animals.  I try to  capture their character , not rob them of dignity, nor turn them into humans.’    

She is also an explorer, a traveller who found her greatest artistic and spiritual fulfilment in desert spaces, trekking through Namibia, Jordan and Oman, also the Sahara and Rajasthan.  It was there that her passion for big cats began.

The desert has cast its spell on thousands of world travellers, entranced by the solitude, endless horizons and crimson sunsets before starlit nights, with  the chance of glimpsing big cats, perhaps actually looking a lion in the face, in the wild.  

Lion, tiger, leopard, lynx and cheetah continue to fascinate Michelle, in search of adventure, who now has a house in South Africa.

Lord Vaizey, former Minister of Culture, writes:

‘It is there that she is able to observe some of the planet’s most threatened animals in their natural environment, and brings that intense wild, direct experience to her wonderful flowing, charismatic charcoal drawings and paintings. She seeks to capture not just their physical power and magnificence, but also their ability to communicate with us and the landscape.’   ‘Her charcoals of cheetah leave details to the imagination behind the few lines that emphasise its speed and beauty.’

Following  a ‘Deserts’ exhibition she was commissioned by John Sunley (Sunley Holdings plc) to paint a portrait of  Mahdi al Tajir, founder of Dubai, with his two cheetah Marzuq and Kamal, his  treasured companions and bedfellows, despite his four wives. . 

The King of Bahrain bought her 40 x 50 oil on canvas ‘Waiting for the Houbara’  of a desert hunting scene with a falcon and saluki dogs.  His Royal Highness commissioned 16 further works, including a life size bronze of his Saker falcon.

Michelle Pearson Cooper has won acclaim around the world for her animal portraiture.  The rich and grand tend to be devoted to their animals, who could be called ‘reigning princes’ in their lives.    

Celebrity commissions include a larger than life size portrait of couturier Bruce Oldfield’s adored Ridgeback,  and the favourite animal friends  of  Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the Marquis of Blandford, Harry Hyams, builder of Centrepoint, industrialist Lord Hanson, many others.   Tom Stoppard commissioned a mural, also Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels for their first hotel in Dorset Square. 

Powerful patrons  Lord Palumbo, former Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, noted the ‘sensitivity and perception’ in Michelle’s ‘economy of line’, and Sir John Madejski, leading financier,  philanthropist,  speaks of ‘the sense of adventure that drives her on, brings strength and immediacy to her work.’ 


Osborne Studio Gallery, London SW1X

About Melanie (185 Articles)
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1 Comment on Art, Fragility, Power & Beauty – Michelle Pearson Cooper

  1. Brilliant Interview – perfectly balanced with a fascinating storyline of just how very different and exceptionally skilled this artist Michelle Pearson Cooper is. Millie brings it all together with perfection in her interview.

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