The generation game

A celebration of the Lake District through the paintings of three generations of one family will be staged here in Grasmere this summer.

Inherited Landscapes is an exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Studio. It features the work of Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929), his son William Heaton Cooper (1863-1929) and his grandson Julian Cooper (born 1947), who has continued the family tradition of painting mountain landscapes.

The four paintings by each artist have been chosen by Julian Cooper, who was filmed making the selections for a Channel 4 TV documentary.

“This family has been around for three generations dealing with the same landscape,” he said. “But our way of looking at it has changed over time, and with different temperaments and differing attitudes to painting which influence how we see the natural world. I’ve chosen paintings which show the more wild and rocky aspects of the Lake District, and one can see that there are both continuities and differences between us.”

Alfred Heaton Cooper, who was recognised as one of the finest Victorian painters of his generation, established the studio back in 1905. His artist son William built the present gallery in Grasmere in 1938. For generations their paintings and books have influenced the way the landscape of the Lake District has been viewed, and the studio is recognised as one of Cumbria’s most distinguished galleries and the pre-eminent centre for landscape art in the Lake District.


The Lakeland landscape through three generations: Above: William Heaton Cooper. Below: William Heaton Cooper and Julian Cooper

Julian Cooper says that one of the differences is that the landscapes of his father and grandfather made paintings of a “view” whereas in his own work he’s interested in focussing on what is at touching distance, with a rough edge to it. His own four paintings of the intimate and mysterious relationship between rocks and trees are all set within a mile of each other on High and Low Rigg, representing “the raw materials of Lakeland”.

“My father’s work by comparison represented nature as ordered, calm and serene, and very beautiful.”

Recent exhibitions have featured the artists individually. From Fells to Fjords highlighted the Scandinavian influence in the work of Alfred Heaton Cooper, showing the artist’s process from sketchbook drawings done from life, up to the finished paintings and then onto the colour plates documenting all aspects of Scandinavian life and landscape in the period from 1890 to 1927, which were used to illustrate a series of guide books.

Lines of Ascent featured the work William Heaton Cooper produced for the Fell and Rock Climbing Club guides for 50 years from 1930s onwards. The books were bibles for the climbing community, showing new routes as they developed, drawn on site and working closely with the climbers at the crag face.

Last summer a major retrospective exhibition of Julian’s work at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal marked his 70th birthday, following other exhibitions at Art Space Gallery in London and at the Studio in Grasmere.

Visitors to the exhibition will also have the opportunity to view works by other members of the Heaton Cooper family, including William’s wife Ophelia Gordon Bell, the sculptor famed for her head of Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary.

The building also houses a new Scandinavian style café, Mathilde’s, designed by the studio’s director Rebecca Heaton Cooper, also an artist, who is William’s grand-daughter.

She said: “This is a very significant exhibition of works chosen to illustrate how different artists can be influenced by the same landscape and yet portray that landscape in very different ways.”

The exhibition will run until the end of October.