Peter Coker RA (1926-2004)

Epping, 1964, Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 in, Signed

[CAS 14] Acquired in 1973


Peter Coker RA (1926-2004)

Malham, Night, 1971, Etching on paper, 14 ½ x 10 ½ in, Signed – AP

[CAS 26] Acquired in 1973


Peter Coker RA (1926-2004)

Portrait of Marion Benham, Oil on canvas, 14 x 12 in

[CAS 71] Donated by Joan Atkinson


Peter Coker RA (1926-2004)

Pencil study for Epping Forest, 11.5 x 11 in

[CAS 72]



Born in London on 27nd July 1926, the son of a businessman Peter Godfrey Coker grew up in Leytonstone where he acquired a love of music from his mother and knowledge of engraving from his maternal grandfather who was a book-edge marbler. At Pettits School, near Havering, where he was a pupil from the age of eleven, he was recognised as a talented young artist by Rogerson, one of his schoolmasters, and Coker went on to study at St Martin’s School of Art between 1941-1943. The war obliged him to serve three years in the Royal Air Force, but after military service he returned to St Martin’s in 1947, remaining there until 1949-50 when he travelled to France and Italy, and fell under the influence of the nineteenth-century Realist painter, Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

He attended the Royal College of Art in London ( 1950-1954), was awarded both Royal and British Institution Scholarships (1951-1953) and from 1954-1973 taught painting at St Martin’s, subsequently transferring his teaching skills to the City and Guilds of London Art School where he taught from 1973 to 1985. During these years in London he became acquainted with Derek Greaves, John Bratby, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith, all of them part of a group devoted to scenes of domestic life under the name Kitchen Sink School. Coker became known for his paintings of stylised and bloodless animal carcases which were apparently memory images of a butcher’s near his home in Leytonstone, and in 1973 he achieved fame for his exhibits in the major Royal Academy exhibition, Paintings and Drawings of the Butcher’s Shop.

He had a number of one-man shows in London and other parts of the country during the 1970s, including four solo exhibitions at the Zwemmer Gallery under the direction of Michael Chase, later Director of the Minories Art Gallery in Colchester. Increasing fame and a growing international reputation increased his public profile when he participated in the famous BBC radio programme The Critics in 1956 and in 1960 he took part in Austrian art forums in Alpbach and Linz.

He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1965 and Royal Academician in 1972. He also published a book entitled Etching Techniques in 1976. His work is present in many public collections including the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the British Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Victor Batte-Lay Foundation at the Minories owns two of his works: Night, Malham and Mistley (see link below).

Peter Coker, who moved to Manningtree in 1962, was a member of Colchester Art Society from 1959 to 1979. Epping was acquired by Colchester Art Society in 1973 as a donation by the then President, John Nash. 



This artist’s love of the countryside has resulted in many landscapes and Epping is a particularly impressive example of his heavy impasted style which, in 1958, was interpreted as very personal, even obsessive, when bits of canvas had to be wedged between layers of paint to hold the compositions together. Coker derived this type of paintwork probably from the influence of Nicolas de Stael (1914-1955), a French painter of Russian origin, whose works feature luscious blocks or patches of thick paint, often applied with a knife, followed by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and his explosion of paint.

This is one of a series of Epping Forest paintings produced almost obsessively from 1959. The forest was only ten minutes away from Leytonstone where he lived at the time. The darkness seen here creates a feeling of mystery bordering on fear. For an etching on the same subject see the exhibition catalogue Peter Coker by Michael Chase: (No 78) Epping Forest, 1971, soft ground and aquatint 18 ¾ x 15 in signed edition 10, exhibited at Thackeray Gallery 1972 (42) and the Royal Academy 1972 (962).

Malham, Night

Peter Coker was fascinated by everyday scenes, landscapes and still-lifes. His depictions are mostly unsentimental and un-idealised. As well as oils he worked in charcoal, pencil and chalk and made a number of prints. Malham Night has the attributes of all of these mediums. Although an etching, the nature of his densely harsh oils and strong charcoal sketches can be easily seen in his depiction of the small village of Malham in the Pennines. The ancient lands of the once bustling industrial village were noted in the Doomsday Book. However Coker’s representation of the now quiet farmland has incorporated the tranquillity of night alongside the mystery of the past. Malham, and in particular Malham Cove, inspired many artists and writers such as Wordsworth and Kingsley. William Turner visited Malham twice, in 1808 and in 1816, painting a superb watercolour of Malham Cove from his sketches, which he finished in 1810 (see link below).

NOTE: For an etching of the same subject see No 77 in the Peter Coker catalogue by Michael Chase: Etching and Aquatint – 14 ½ x 10 ¾ in - edition 10 - exhibited at the Thackeray Gallery in 1972 (43)

Selected Exhibitions

1956, South London Art Gallery, Looking Forward

1956, 1957, 1959, 1964, the Zwemmer Gallery, London, Peter Coker (solo exhibitions)

1960 Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Art Alive

1962 Arts Council, British Painting 1957-1962

1962 Royal College of Art, Towards Art

1963 The Minories, Colchester, Peter Coker, solo exhibition of drawings

1968 Magdalene Street Gallery, Cambridge

1968 The Stable Gallery, Woodbridge

1968 Royal Academy of Arts, London, Bicentenary Exhibition (1768-1968)

1969 The Stone Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Peter Coker: Drawings

1972-73 Retrospective exhibition curated by Michael Chase, Director of The Minories, Peter Coker RA:

1972 (October-November) The Minories Art Gallery, Colchester

1972 (December) Victoria Gallery, Bath

1973 (January-February) The Morley Gallery, London

1973 (February-March) Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield

1972 The Thackeray Gallery and The Royal Academy, London

1972 (December) Victoria Gallery, Bath

1973 (January-February) The Morley Gallery, London

1973 (February-March) Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield

1979 Royal Academy of Arts, London, Painting and Drawings of the Butcher’s Shop

1984 Gallery 10, London

1990 The Mayor Gallery, London, Retrospective of the


BENEZIT, Dictionary of artists, Paris: Grϋnd, 2006, vol. 3, p. 1200

BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p.276

COKER, Peter, Etching Techniques, Batsford, London, 1976

GORE, Frederick, RA, introduction to the travelling exhibition held at Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield; The Minories, Colchester; Victoria Gallery, Bath; and The Morley Gallery, London, Peter Coker, 1972-3

MEIßNER, G., Saur Allgemeines Kunstler-Lexion: Band 20, K.G. Saur Verlag GmbH & Co, Munich, Germany, 1998

WOOTTON, David and RUSSELL TAYLOR, John, with the contribution of Richard Humpreys, Peter Coker RA: Fully illustrated biography and catalogue raisonné of major oils, watercolours and etchings with a list of sketchbooks, Chris Beetles Ltd, 2002

The Victor Batte-Lay Foundation

Art UK

British Museum - Turner's drawing of Malham Cove, 1810