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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Douglas Cooper papers
    Date (inclusive): 1900-1985, bulk 1933-1985
    Number: 860161
    Creator/Collector: Cooper, Douglas, 1911-1984
    Physical Description: 37.5 linear feet (94 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: This collection chronicles Douglas Cooper's long career as critic, curator, and collector, as well his wide circle of associations within the art world. Limited to his professional life, it encompasses his curatorship of the Mayor Gallery (London), his investigation of art stolen by Nazis, and his penchant for controversy. It includes correspondence, manuscripts, printed matter, photographs, clippings, audiovisual materials, and a variety of other media.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    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, Guttuso, 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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Douglas Cooper papers, 1900-1985, bulk 1933-1985, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 860161.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from William McCarty-Cooper in 1986.

    Processing History

    The Douglas Cooper Papers were acquired in 1986. Subsequently, theater programs and a miniature copy of Grimm's fairy tales illustrated by David Hockney were moved into the collection from Special Collections accn. no. 860281. Preliminary processing was done, and a box list was prepared. Annette Leddy completed processing the collection in 1997 and wrote this finding aid. In 2013, when the the Cooper research photographs were reintegrated, Jan Bender wrote the inventory for the relevant subseries and Ann Harrison made further revisions.

    Separated Material

    A portion of the research photographs was moved to the Photo Archive, Paintings Section (accession no. 86.P.2) shortly after the collection was received in 1986. In 2013, this material was restored to accession no. 860161, the Douglas Cooper papers. Books were transferred to the Getty Research Institute Library. A Brinsley Ford/Richard Wilson item was moved to Special Collections accession no. 860298. Janis Gallery material was moved to Special Collections accession no. 890044**.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection embraces all papers relating to Cooper's career as a critic, curator, and collector that remained with his estate at the time of his death. The correspondence reflects Cooper's wide circle of friends and acquaintances in the art world, his work as an art expert, and his penchant for controversy. All of Cooper's published books, catalogs, articles and reviews are represented, with the writing process often documented from initial notes and correspondence, through various drafts of the manuscript, to clippings of reviews. There are correspondence and clippings from Cooper's tenure at the Mayor Gallery, as well as correspondence and reports relating to his investigation of Nazi art collections. Photographs, slides and transparencies comprise nearly one-third of the collection. They document Cooper's art collection and the Picasso wall at his Chateau de Castille, his research for writings and exhibitions, his work as an art authenticator, and also record the architectural monuments he viewed during his travels.
    Missing from the collection is Cooper's correspondence with Picasso (now in the Picasso Museum in Paris), the manuscript of Road to Bordeaux (1940), and papers relating to the unfinished Gauguin catalog raisonée. The correspondence, while personal as well as professional, is not of a highly intimate nature. There are very few personal photographs.
    Media in the collection include manuscripts, photographs, slides and transparencies (glass and film), clippings, audio tapes, Super 8 film, and small metal toys.

    Arrangement note

    The collection is arranged in 9 series: Series I. Correspondence, 1939-1984; Series II. Manuscripts, 1934-1984; Series III. Records of the Mayor Gallery, London, 1933-1938; Series IV. Papers relating to Nazi art collections, 1940-1946; Series V. Exhibitions, 1948-1983, undated; Series VI. Photographic materials, 1900-1984, undated; Series VII. Personal and Printed matter, 1933-1985, undated; Series VIII. Audio tapes and film, ca. 1970-1975; Series IX. Toys, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Arp, Jean, 1887-1966
    Braque, Georges, 1882-1963
    Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985
    Cooper, Douglas, 1911-1984
    Cézanne, Paul, 1839-1906
    De Chirico, Giorgio, 1888-1978
    Delacroix, Eugène, 1798-1863
    Gauguin, Paul, 1848-1903
    Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890
    Gris, Juan, 1887-1927
    Kandinsky, Wassily, 1866-1944
    Klee, Paul, 1879-1940
    Marini, Marino, 1901-1980
    Miró, Joan, 1893-1983
    Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973
    Staël, Nicolas de , 1914-1955

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Mayor Gallery
    Museo del Prado
    Tate Gallery

    Subjects - Topics

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

    Subjects - Titles

    Bonington Cubist epoch Essential Cubism, 1907-1920: Braque, Picasso & their friends Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace Juan Gris: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint ... Les déjeuners / Pablo Picasso Sunshine at midnight: memories of Picasso and Cocteau

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    Bell, Clive, 1881-1964
    Buquet, Alain
    Guttuso, Renato, 1911-1987
    Léger, Fernand, 1881-1955
    Moore, Henry, 1898-1986
    Read, Herbert, 1893-1968
    Shirley, Andrew, 1900-1958
    Steegmuller, Francis, 1906-1994
    Sutherland, Graham Vivian, 1903-1980