Home > art, stoke > Norman Cope – Stoke-on-Trent artist (1925-1943)

Norman Cope – Stoke-on-Trent artist (1925-1943)

Adam and Eve

Norman Cope, born 29 June 1925, was a young Potteries artist tragically killed in 1943 after a fall on the staircase of Burslem School of Art. He was considered by his peers to be the most talented of the pupils – high praise given that his classmates included Arthur Berry and John Shelton. The drawing which Cope produced for his entrance examination to the School of Art unsettled Berry to the extent that he felt that he would not make the cut himself.

Dissatisfied with his job as an apprentice designer at Spode Copeland, Cope argued with his friend Berry over the latter’s admiration of Lowry, Cope believing Lowry’s work to be too naïve and provincial. He believed that the great masters of the twentieth century were Picasso, Kandinsky and surrealist painter de Chirico. He progressed from the Junior Art Department in 1940 after which he started to produce savage and expressionist oil paintings and drawings – his drawings of drunken soldiers reflected his revulsion to the violence of the war.

The Soldier, 1943

Cope was admitted into Edinburgh College of Art in October 1943 after being awarded the Andrew Grant (Entrance) Scholarship of £60 (5 years) the previous June. The Andrew Grant Bequest Entrance Scholarships were designed to enable students of merit, who did not qualify for any other source of funding, to attend Edinburgh College of Art. John Shelton noted that he himself had “won a place at Slade after failing to get in at Edinburgh (took Copey instead!)”. Berry and Shelton visited Cope in Edinburgh where he was lodging in Bread Street. His room had his latest pen and ink drawings – almost completely non-figurative – on display, in contrast to the more figurative works by Cope which are held in the National Collection. Cope had been impressed by a teacher in Edinburgh called Maxwell1, [presumably the same “Maxwell (The Edinboro’ lad)” who had a piece in the collection of Peter Watson2] with Cope subsequently starting to venture into the realms of surrealism.

Norman Cope, Self Portrait

Cope had by now embraced his image as an artist, dressing in a dark suit and tie with his dark hair centre-parted. Berry noted that he looked like the self-portrait by de Chirico, a comment which inspired Cope to work on his own surrealist painting “The endless monotony of existence”. Berry admired Cope’s self-containment which allowed him to focus on his art. This was in stark contrast to Berry’s own pre-occupation with girlfriends which was much to Cope’s amusement.

A ferocious graffiti image of a man – the eye of whom was centred around a hole gouged into the door and with the accompanying words “I am Nobody” – caught the imagination of both Arthur Berry and Norman Cope after the former spotted it on a toilet door in Edinburgh Salvation Army Hostel. Cope copied it to his notebook to take back to Stoke to show Berry during the fateful Christmas of 1943. Berry later feared that the picture had somehow been a jinx.

Suicide of Pascin

In a letter dated 1st December, 1943, Shelton wrote to his friend “I shall be looking forward to seeing you on the 16th. I wonder if Berry will be coming home too.” The three men – Cope, Shelton and Berry – were to be reunited at the fateful Burslem School of Arts Ball. Norman lost his grip on the handrail and fell down the stairs. Shelton recollected that the only mark on Norman was a slight line on his temple. Norman Cope spent the night on the firewatching mattresses at the School of Art. The next morning, Berry awoke to find that his friend had died during the night.

Jacob and the Angel


Two of Norman Cope’s works can be found in the recent BBC Your Paintings project. They are in the collection of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. The above article was collated from the pages of A Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man – Arthur Berry (Kermase Editions, 1986), from the diaries of John Shelton (1923-1993) and from information supplied by Michael Cope and Helen Jones. Images of Norman Cope’s work are reproduced with the kind permission of his family. There will be an exhibition in October 2012 of Norman Cope’s work – alongside that of his fellow students Arthur Berry and John Shelton – entitled The Burslem Boys.

1Edinburgh College of Art note [e-mail correspondence] that John Maxwell taught General Drawing and Still Life in The School of Drawing and Painting and was on the College staff from c1929/30.
2Letter from Robert MacBryde to his former tutor Ian Fleming as cited in Roger Bristow’s ‘The Last Bohemians’ (p.93)

  1. April 20, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Finbofinbo, I’m enjoying your blog very much. Very detailed and well-written. These are artists I’d formerly been unaware of and am delighted to see them and that you’re bringing such work to our attention. Such a marvelous Cope portrait and his early death an immense tragedy. Fascinating that Cope dismissed Lowry in favor of the great Modernists and you can see their influence in his work clearly. I quite like Lowry because of the level of feeling in his work, but then again Lowry’s provincialism is more “exotic” to me because I’m viewing him from the US.

    Those are really interesting Cope paintings, particularly the suicide of Pascin. I should do a post on Pascin that is more expanded from the one I have on TrueOutsider. He’s a much neglected artist who, I feel, should be much better known as he was when he was a highly respected member of the school of Paris, which is why he would have drawn Cope’s attention. Pascin tragically took his own life at the age of 45, and Cope is giving us the horror of it. Wish there wasn’t the flashbulb so we could see it a bit better!


    • April 20, 2012 at 4:39 am

      Hi true outsider,
      Thank you for your kind comments! I’ll re-post the images of Norman’s work minus the flashbulb as soon as I can. His family are planning on getting his work scanned/photographed professionally. At the moment they just have a set of digital photos with the work remaining in-situ under glass. I was keen to get them onto the web though as any article about an artist needs examples of their work!
      Best wishes,

  1. February 8, 2012 at 9:50 am
  2. February 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm
  3. March 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm
  4. May 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm
  5. January 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm
  6. July 25, 2013 at 8:39 pm

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