Monumental painting returns to the family home

A remarkable and monumental painting by Britain’s leading mountain artist has come home to be sold.

Scafell Crag, by Julian Cooper, has hung in the entrance atrium of Rheged Discovery Centre near Penrith since the centre’s opening in 2001.

But the Mountain Heritage Trust, who commissioned the painting, are now selling it to realise assets, so the painting has come back here to the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere, at the gallery made famous the world over by Julian’s father and grandfather, the painters William and Alfred Heaton Cooper.

It will hang on the wall of Mathilde’s café adjoining the studio to be viewed by prospective buyers.

Julian Cooper and the painting now at Mathilde’s cafe

Scafell Crag, a giant at 13 feet high and ten feet wide, has a story almost as remarkable as the painting itself. It was commissioned to celebrate mountaineering and the role of the Lake District in the birth of rock climbing.

Julian Cooper had done an earlier, smaller painting of climbers on Central Buttress, Scafell, which he showed to the Mountain Heritage Trust to give them an idea of his plan. At that stage, the intention was to display a horizontal painting along a wall in the restaurant at the centre, and Julian got to work on what was one of his biggest-ever commissions. He needed specially-built indoor scaffolding in his studio to work on it.

Julian working on the painting in his studio 20 years ago

But then the site for the painting was changed, moving to a new space that was higher than wider, so the painting had to be re-scaled. “Pikes Crag had to be moved in front of Scafell, deleting the landscape in between,” says Julian.

Then the opening date of Rheged was brought forward, because the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, would be available to carry out the official opening, and so Julian’s painting had to be hung unfinished. Hanging the painting took four men, ropes, two long ladders, and a specially made framework to support it while it was secured to the wall.

And then after the ceremony was over, the painting was removed to a barn where Julian added climbers on the crag, friends whom her persuaded to “model” for him. Among them was his niece Becky, now the director of the Heaton Cooper Studio, whose outstretched hand can be seen in the painting. The finished work was then taken back to Rheged six months later, where it’s hung ever since.

Bringing the painting home: a logistical challenge

Julian said that bringing the painting to Grasmere had presented a number of logistical challenges. “It will be good to see this on the wall here in Mathilde’s. It seems right that it should be displayed here, at the heart of our family’s artistic heritage. It will be interesting to see who has the space to buy it.”

The painting is expected to sell for around £30,000.