Biography of Alfred Heaton Cooper

Born in Manchester and brought up in Bolton, Lancashire, Alfred was one of six children of mill worker parents. They made many sacrifices to educate their sons and to the delight of his father Alfred left school to become a clerk in Bolton Town Hall. His mother however knew of his passion for drawing and painting and encouraged him to submit some of his artworks with a view to gaining an art scholarship.

He was successful and went to London in 1884 where his arrival coincided with one of the most active periods of challenge and change in western European art. He studied under George Clausen and was heavily influenced by Turner, Constable and the Barbizon school, also by Millet, who was the first to portray in art the life and work of the common man.

Student life did not seem to suit Alfred for long, as he was determined to make a living by his art. He ended his London days prematurely, returning briefly to the north of England, where he retraced Turner's journey through the famous beauty spots of Yorkshire, before visiting Morocco, and then setting off to the Norwegian fjords determined to make his living selling landscape pictures to the European tourists who went there in great numbers.

However, Alfred became fascinated by the rural peasant life of the people of the Sogne region. He studied them and their language and eventually wrote and illustrated a guide book to the fjords. He married a local girl and built a studio beside the fjord at Balestrand, which stands today and is known still as Cooperhus.

Alfred could not make an adequate living in Norway, but he tried to arrange matters so that he could live partly there and partly in England, where he returned with his bride in 1894. He settled first back in Bolton, moving to Southport and finally to the Lake District, where wealthy tourists promised a better livelihood.

The red roofed log cabin which Alfred had shipped from Norway caused quite a stir when it was first erected in Coniston village as a studio, but his expectations of the wealthy tourists were not fulfilled sufficiently for Alfred to sustain his growing family. More people seemed to be visiting Ambleside than Coniston so the log studio was moved there, where it stands today.

Alfred settled to a life of continuous painting. His wife ran the studio while he tramped the Lakeland fells and valleys, finding scenes which inspired him to paint and which would appeal to visitors. An important source of income was a commission from travel guide publishers A & C Black, for whom he illustrated many books. Complete list of books illustrated

He made a meagre living and was constantly worried about money. Nevertheless he was well liked for his genial disposition and hard working lifestyle, with friends among the gentry of the time as well as the dalesmen.

It is difficult to assess the extent of Alfred's output of art. He would be amazed now to find some of his larger original paintings selling for several thousand pounds, and even more amazed to see thousands of fine art prints of his work sold every year from the Grasmere gallery which bears his name.

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