Milein Cosman (1921-2017)

Pictured: AJR blue plaque at 50 Willow Road NW3, placed 26.11.19.

From an obituary by Amanda Hopkinson in The Guardian of Mon 4 Dec 2017:

“Milein Cosman, who has died aged 96, drew many of the greatest artistic names of the 20th century. Working on commission for publishers, magazines and newspapers, she sketched Benjamin Britten, Yehudi Menuhin, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Sir Thomas Beecham, TS Eliot, Francis Bacon, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, among others.

She drew primarily from life, and her subjects were mostly artists of various kinds, and above all musicians. Into this she was led by a love of music, but also by her almost 40-year-long collaboration with her Viennese husband, the musician, musicologist and broadcaster Hans Keller. Their book Stravinsky at Rehearsal (1962), which combined his words with her drawings, is a classic of a genre they largely devised themselves; he analysed the music, while she captured the musicians in the midst of its creation…

Emilie Cosmann (her brother nicknamed her “Milein” and she dropped the last letter of her surname when she came to Britain) was born into a comfortable German-Jewish family in the small town of Gotha, in Germany. She was educated largely in Düsseldorf, where she organised a pupils’ anti-fascist group and for her last two school years attended the Ecole d’Humanité and the International School in Geneva.

In 1939 she followed her brother, who was already installed in Scotland, to Britain. Thereafter, Milein always referred to herself as an émigrée rather than a refugee. Refugee was not the only label she refused to accept. “I’m not religious, I was brought up without religion, my religion is the arts,” she said, and: “I am not a ‘Jewish’ artist.”

After she gained entry to the Slade School of Fine Art – by turning up in person with her portfolio – she lived in a leaky garret behind the Ashmolean museum, Oxford, where the Slade was evacuated for the duration of the war. She studied drawing under Randolph Schwabe and lithography with Harold Jones, and in 1943 she alternated evening classes with Bernard Meninsky at Oxford Polytecnic with giving art classes for the Workers’ Educational Association. She supported herself by delivering milk with a pony and trap and teaching French at a convent school…

Milein moved to London at the end of the war, where she worked as an illustrator and began to submit sketches to magazines and newspapers. She became a regular contributor to the Radio Times, supplying portraits of the next week’s interviewees. Of Imogen Holst she said: “She looked quite funny, you know, in her sandals and ankle socks. She had the face of a Flemish Madonna.” Sometimes she generalised: “I find on the whole women quite difficult to do. They often have softer features – and very few of them are conductors”; of the cellist Rostropovich, she said: “He was marvellous to draw, as I believe cellists almost always are, crawling all over their instruments like beetles.”

In 1947, while working on a commission, she met Keller, who became her most frequent subject; his keenly angular, impish face adorned the small spaces of wall between the vast living-room windows of the Hampstead house which they bought in the 1960s, and where Milein stayed on alone after his death in 1985. With its unfolding rooms – French windows and a kitchen verandah giving on to a long front garden scattered with fruit trees – it had a German ambience often enhanced by the aroma of fresh poppyseed cake wafting through the open-plan modernist interior…”

From the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:

“In 2005, Milein gave an interview to the AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive recalling her home and living in Hampstead:

Home for me is Hampstead and the Heath. Just when I met Hans, I had secured something I had longed for, for years, a little ruin of a little house, it was actually a stable, a donkey stable at the turn of the century almost bang on the Heath in Willow Road. It was raining through the skylights but it was absolutely wonderful. In those days, Hampstead was truly like a little village.”

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