Jean Cooke: ‘Beach, Birling Gap’ 1975
Piano Nobile was established by Dr Robert Travers in 1985, and has operated in its Holland Park location for over twenty years, latterly in two spaces either side of Portland Road. It’s a family business, not only overseen by Robert and his son Matthew, but under the same name as the gallery run in Rome by Robert’s grandparents (‘Piano Nobile’ is the Italian phrase for the principal floor of a palazzo – the place where the best art is shown). Uniquely, the gallery runs a biennial self-portrait prize with £10,000 to the winner*. The regular focus, though, is on secondary market shows of mainly British art, with notably informative catalogues setting out the substantial research into what always strikes me as the surprising number of high quality works the gallery is able to obtain. You can get a feel for that through the still-viewable online presentations of such as Frank Auerbach, Walter Sickert, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and John Golding. Piano Nobile currently has a group show of works on paper; and a survey of cave, sea and landscape paintings by Jean Cooke (1927 – 2008). When she separated from John Bratby in 1972, following a turbulent marriage, he was much the better-known artist. The balance has shifted in the last decade, and this show is part of a renaissance which may yet see Cooke, Kahlo-style, posthumously eclipse the fame of her partner. She rented a house-come-studio on a clifftop in Birling Gap in Sussex, and when that was knocked down to stop it falling into the sea, bought the next house along, so much did the location inspire her over her last forty years.
* the shortlisted artworks will be exhibited at The Atkinson Museum, Southport, Sept – Dec 2023.
London’s gallery scene is varied, from small artist-run spaces to major institutions and everything in between. Each week, art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent gives a personal view of a space worth visiting.