Heather Copley

Diana Heather Pickering Copley, painter and teacher: born Brewood, Staffordshire 13 December 1918; married 1940 Christopher Chamberlain (died 1984; one daughter); died London 27 September 2001.
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The Independent Online

Diana Heather Pickering Copley, painter and teacher: born Brewood, Staffordshire 13 December 1918; married 1940 Christopher Chamberlain (died 1984; one daughter); died London 27 September 2001.

Many women artists, once they marry a painter, subsume their careers to his and to their family. It is a tribute to Heather Copley's dedication and discipline that she continued with her own work alongside such a formidable talent as that of her husband Christopher Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, and to a lesser extent Copley, both produced a huge volume of graphic work, ranging from instructional drawings to atmospheric depictions of London and elsewhere. Between 1955 and 1968, Copley's British and American clients ranged across Phoenix House and the Bodley Head, the Law Society and the Institute of Economic Affairs, the publisher John Lehmann, Publishing News and the Bainbridge Press.

Although she never had a solo exhibition, Copley participated in mixed shows, including Arts Council travelling exhibitions. In 1951, she gained the Lord Mayor's Art Award, second prize, in a show of London paintings at the Guildhall. Her picture Lake Trasimeno in the 1978 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was chosen for purchase by the President and Council under the terms of the Harrison Weir Fund.

As well as having solo and other mixed shows, "Chimp" Chamberlain was, like Copley, a regular exhibitor at the Summer Exhibition. When I interviewed her several years ago, she regretted that he had not been elected a Royal Academician, having been on the nomination list for many years. Outspoken and idealistic, however, Chamberlain was not one to say the right things and keep in with people who mattered.

Heather Copley was born in 1918 at Brewood Hall, Staffordshire, and, aged only 14, started as a student at Clapham School of Art, remaining there for six years until 1939, supported by a London County Council Intermediate Scholarship. Her notable teachers included William Wildman and the watercolourist Vivian Pitchforth. A three-year Senior County Scholarship took her to the Royal College of Art in 1940, the year she married, although her studies were interrupted by service in ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in 1940-41.

Her only child, Saskia, was born in 1941. Adding to Copley's anxieties about living and bringing up a small child in wartime London was concern about Chamberlain. He had been a Royal Exhibitioner at the Royal College when he was called up in the Royal Army Service Corps in 1939, going with the British Expeditionary Force to France and being evacuated from Dunkirk. After their marriage, he had volunteered for waterborne units and was involved in potentially hazardous activities.

In 1945, Copley returned to the Royal College. As well as painting, where Carel Weight's teaching was important, she also studied engraving, before being awarded a postgraduate year, 1947-48. From 1948 to 1983, she taught drawing and painting part-time at St Martin's, then one of Britain's most lively and influential schools. After demobilisation, Chamberlain too, meanwhile, returned to the Royal College, before launching on a teaching career, notably at Camberwell School at Art, which lasted until his death in 1984.

Copley went on painting almost until the end of her life. She claimed that influences on her work were wide-ranging, from the early Italians and Holbein through Goya, the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Although she was essentially a representational painter of landscape and still life, her later pictures can have an abstract quality

Several years after Chamberlain's death, when she was 69, Copley set off with her grandson and a friend for three months' back-packing around India, Nepal and China. After that, she went away every year to such destinations as St Petersburg, Sicily and Egypt.

Many foreign collectors bought from Copley. One was the actor Edward G. Robinson, a noted connoisseur. "I think he was very drunk when he bought my work," she said.

David Buckman

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