This blog posting has been prepared by one of our volunteers, Elizabeth Stenning
Alfred was born in Tettenhall on 5 July 1883 to parents Alfred Cooper and Sarah Hannah Speed, and displayed artistic promise at an early age, exhibiting at the Royal Academy for the first time aged just 18. He attended Bilston School of Art in Mount Pleasant, and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1911. Cooper specialised in portraits, figure subjects and landscapes, exhibiting at the Manchester City Art Gallery, Walker Art Gallery, the Paris Salon and elsewhere.
While still a student, Cooper entered a competition for which John Singer Sargent was one of the judges. Impressed by the young Cooper’s work, Sargent invited Cooper to work with him at his studio in Tite Street, Chelsea which had belonged to James McNeill Whistler. Cooper was to spend about a year with Sargent assisting the Master with backgrounds and details for his paintings.
Cooper was elected ARBA 1921 and a full member two years later.
Cooper joined the Artists Rifles at the outbreak of war, where he befriended Dr Barnes Wallis, who later found fame for creating the “Dam Buster” bouncing bomb. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1915. It was also during his training at Romford that he met his future wife, Irene Florence Clements, when her parents entertained officers at their home. Though Cooper survived the War, his sight was impaired during a chlorine gas attack, and after the Armistice he was appointed an Official War Artist to the RAF. He married his wife in 1920, and they had a son, Peter, five years later.
Among Cooper’s high profile commissions were Sir Winston Churchill, The Queen, and her father King George VI; during the Blitz, the King’s medals were delivered to Cooper’s studio so that he could paint them, and he was terrified that they would be destroyed by a bomb.
Cooper died in Chelsea, London, on 11 May 1974.