“The Horror, The Horror!”: Dark And Disturbing Paintings Of Death And Disease By Richard Tennant Cooper
At one point in his life, Richard Tennant Cooper had dreams of some day being recognised as one of the best artists in the world. Let’s be fair, why not the best artist in the world? We all have dreams – but somehow life intervenes. Tennant Cooper had talent, good talent, maybe great talent, maybe not so great. What talent he showed as a young man ended with him painting signs for the AA and supplying commercial illustrations for motor magazines. Why criticise him for that, we all have to live.
Born and raised in Tonbridge, Kent, Cooper (1885-1957) trained as an artist in Paris.
Cooper’s paintings are dramatic, beautiful and, what some have called, “phantasmagorical.” They owe more to the Decadent Movement (think Félicien Rops) with their fear of disease, in particular sexually transmitted disease. Cooper’s paintings follow that trend of depicting women as temptresses and carriers of syphilis and gonorrhoea – as if men (those lousy fuckers) had nothing to do with sex.
These paintings are powerful and disturbing. They look like they belong in a Victorian handbook warning against the sins of uncleanliness and sexual indulgence.