Cooper, Douglas, 1911-1984

Alternative names
Birth 1911-02-20
Death 1984-04-01
English, French

Biographical notes:

Douglas Cooper pursued a long career as art critic, curator and collector, producing numerous books, catalogs, articles and reviews. He also amassed a distinguished collection of early Cubist paintings.

From the description of Douglas Cooper papers, 1900-1985, bulk 1933-1985. (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 81481745

Biographical/Historical Note

Douglas Cooper was born in London in 1911 to a family that had made a fortune in Australia and acquired a baronetcy. After briefly attending Oxford, Freiburg and the Sorbonne, he came into his inheritance, a third of which he employed to amass a collection of early Cubist paintings (1906-1914) by Picasso, Braque, Gris and Leger. During the same decade he was associated with the Mayor Gallery in London, serving as curator, lecturer, and essayist, presenting the European Modernists to a British audience and developing a wide range of art world acquaintances.

During WWII, Cooper served first as an ambulance driver in pre-Vichy France, an experience recounted in The Road to Bordeaux (with Denys Freeman, 1940), then as an intelligence officer interrogating German prisoners of war, and finally as an investigator of Nazi art thieves and the dealers who collaborated with them. Returning to London after the war, he again took up his career as art critic, curator and connoisseur, producing a formidable number of books, catalogs, articles and reviews, among which were Leger (1949), Picasso: Les Dejeuners (1962), The Cubist Epoch (1971), Juan Gris: Catalogue Raisonné (with Margaret Potter, 1977), and The Essential Cubism (with Gary Tinterow, 1983). While the focus of his work remained the Paris School of early Cubism, Cooper also wrote on Degas, Turner, Klee, Sutherland, Guttoso, and numerous others. A personal friend of many of the artists whose work he collected or reviewed, Cooper reserved his highest praise for Picasso, whom he commissioned to create a design for a wall at his Chateau de Castille in Provence.

Known equally for his charm and cantankerousness, Cooper engaged in many battles with those art institutions and individuals whom he perceived as insufficiently persuaded of the greatness of European Modernism. The most famous of these controversies involved the Tate Gallery, which he assiduously attacked for more than twenty years. Until the end of his life, Cooper continued to lecture and curate exhibitions throughout Europe and the U.S. He also wrote radio broadcasts and film narrations about art history. He died in 1984, leaving most of his estate to his adopted son, William McCarty Cooper.

From the guide to the Douglas Cooper papers, 1900-1985, 1933-1985, (Getty Research Institute)


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Ark ID:


  • Art, Modern--Collectors and collecting
  • Architecture, Modern--20th century
  • Post-impressionism (Art)
  • École de Paris
  • Art thefts
  • Painting, Modern--20th century
  • World War, 1939-1945--Art and the war
  • Art historians
  • Art thefts--Europe
  • Art--Exhibitions
  • Cubism
  • École de Paris
  • National socialism and art


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  • Europe (as recorded)