Naked ambition provides inspiration at Hampstead ponds

PUBLISHED: 10:43 13 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 07 September 2010

Hampstead Pond, painted by Milein Cosman in 1965

Hampstead Pond, painted by Milein Cosman in 1965

Artist captures the beauty of the beloved spot rather than the official dress code For habitués of the Heath ladies swimming pond, the first impression created by Milein Cosman s painting Hampstead Pond (pictured) may well be of a serious breach of dres

Artist captures the beauty of the beloved spot rather than the official dress code

For habitués of the Heath ladies' swimming pond, the first impression created by Milein Cosman's painting Hampstead Pond (pictured) may well be of a serious breach of dress code.

But this evocation of alfresco nudity, echoing Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, reflects the essence of gatherings at this beloved spot rather than documenting the reality.

Places and personalities are captured with lively lines and brushstrokes, as though from the inside, in the paintings, prints and drawings of Cosman's exhibition Lifelong Impressions at Burgh House in Hampstead.

She distils the experience of intensely observing subjects, whether in an uncontrived oil pastel of Willow Cottages - a stone's throw from Burgh House - or an eloquent etching of TS Eliot in profile.

Born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1921, Cosman came to study at the Slade in 1939 and moved to Oxford when the school was evacuated there in the war.

The exhibition is a retrospective of six decades, with many local subjects, including a drawing of Belsize Park Underground station made during the Blitz and a painting of Guy Monnier, former chef of Le Cellier du Midi in Church Row, from the 70s.

Cosman came to live in Hampstead in 1946 and a year later met her future husband, the influential Austrian-born musician, writer and broadcaster Hans Keller, who joined her there. Her portraits of the cultural luminaries of the area - including Keller - are, for me, the most intriguing part of this rewarding exhibition.

The impressive litany of names, with key achievements explained in notes, includes Elias Canetti, Ernst Gombrich, Josef Herman, Adrian Stokes, Kyffin Williams and Cosman's close friend Marie Louise von Mostesiczky. Her portrait of Francis Bacon, circa 1990, is a fine example of her etchings. Cosman remains active as a draughtswoman and printer and is a member of Camden Printmakers.

On May 29, Cosman is in conversation with historian Dr Bea Lewkowicz and on June 19 Barbara Jackson leads a creative drawing workshop following a tour of Lifelong Impressions.

The exhibition and events are jointly presented by the Hampstead Museum and the Jewish Museum.

Until June 29 at Burgh House, New End Square, NW3. Wednesday to Friday and Sunday noon to 5pm. For details of events, see www.burghhouse. org.uk or phone 020-8371 7373. Booking essential.


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