THE artist Jean Cooke Ra partly attributed her career to two childhood memories.
One was watching her mother mix together paints for walls. The other was hiding beneath her father’s shop counter and by listening to a customer’s voice, trying to work out what they were like.
You might suppose the first provided a training in colour and the second in visualisation.
Jean, who was born in 1927, was elected as a Royal Academician in 1972. She died in 2008.
She is one of only five female artists to be represented in the Ruth Borchard Collection: 100 self portraits spanning 1921-1971 bought for a maximum of 21 guineas.
Jean wrote to Ruth in 1966, “I am not a feminist but to have only three women painters out of 91 (as it was at that point) makes rather poor odds so 21gns it is.”
Jean was a painter of landscapes and still-life subjects, but was equally gifted as a portrait and figurative painter capable of producing honest and analytical self-portraits, as well as intimate interior studies.
An exhibition of Jean’s work is running concurrently with Face to Face: British Self-Portraits in the 20th Century, selected from the Ruth Borchard Collection.
The shows are at the University Gallery, Northumbria University until August 20. For more information check www.northumbria.ac.uk/ universitygallery
There is a programme of lectures to accompany the exhibition by Dr Gail-Nina Anderson. The Male Face is on July 28, Mona Lisa and her Sisters: Portraits of Women in on August 4 and Unexpected Faces: Portraits of the Working Classes on August 11. All lectures are at 6pm and tickets are £4. Call 0191 227 4424 to reserve tickets.