Obituaries Joan Souter-Robertson

Frances Partridge
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:33

The painter Joan Souter-Robertson was born in the United Provinces of India, where her father held a civilian post, and she liked to remember returning there briefly to do duty as hostess to her provincial governor uncle on some state occasion. Mu ch later, in 1936, her marriage to Jacques Cocheme, a Frenchman from Mauritius (a biologist and agroclimatist), took her far afield again for long periods, to Syria, the Sudan, Kenya and Italy. In all these countries, as well as on holiday in France and Spain,she found subjects to paint - washerwomen in Europe, landscapes everywhere and black jockeys in full rig in Kenya.

At first she had a hard time winning her way to her chosen career, for her attractive but improvident father died in 1912 when she was only nine, the Simla bank went bust and his wife and two children were left very badly off. Joan used to say she had never been educated, though in fact she passed unhappily through ballet school, one or two convents and a secretarial college. But she was always a determined character; she knew that to be a painter was what she wanted, and in 1925 she began studying withAndre L'Hote in Paris.

Working under L'Hote she developed a sound technique and a colour sense that was already naturally rich. By the time she returned to London she was a confident artist and, as she needed to earn her living, she specialised in portraits of children, showi n g a remarkable gift for capturing them alive and fresh. She painted the nine children of the second Lord Moyne, making great friends with the family, who welcomed her to occupy a flat over the stables of their Arab stud in Hampshire. Here she used every form of decoration and furniture painting and set up mirrors to increase the light in what became a charming little retreat.

During the Second World War Cocheme served as a meteorologist in the RAF, spending long periods at extremely high altitudes, a factor which may have been connected with the heart attack that killed him in 1971, when he was working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome.

Souter-Robinson painted portraits of adults as well as children, among them Sir Desmond MacCarthy, an elusive sitter of whom she made an excellent likeness, the lovely daughter of a rajah and a delightful head of her own mother when a pretty little old lady with a fine complexion, bright black eyes and white hair - much as the artist herself was to become.

Every house she occupied was beautified with frescoes, painted pots and dishes and cheerful glass-pictures. When I moved into my London flat I asked her to marble a table for it. ``Perhaps grey and white?'' I suggested. ``Yes, yes,'' she replied briskly and began covering it in a dashingly bright pink picked out with black, and of course she was right. It was typical of her also to be quite undaunted by a bad stain on a chair-cover at one of her exhibitions, but quickly paint it over with the pattern ofthe stuff.

In London she exhibited at the London Group, the New Burlington and the Storran Gallery, abroad in Beirut, Khartoum and Nairobi. In 1982 Stephen Reiss organised a very successful one-man show of her work in the upstairs gallery at Burlington House. Finally, many will remember her - at the age of 90 - welcoming her friends and admirers to a retrospective show organised almost entirely by herself, with the help of her framer Stewart Heslop.

Joan always had innumerable friends, to whom she contributed gaiety and happiness in good times, and staunch support in bad ones.

Frances Partridge

Joan Mearnie Souter-Robinson, painter: born India 20 September 1903; married 1936 Jacques Cocheme (died 1971); died London 22 December1994.

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