Meeting Dr Richard Cork

Meeting Dr Richard Cork was something I was very curious to do after reading his biography provided by The Courtauld website. I was looking through The Courtauld’s art history summer school courses at the time. His is also a name that pops up everywhere in the art history section of the library at university and in the introductions to many books such as those found in the Tate shop. He is indeed an eminent man at the top of his field; Brian Sewell has called him an exogete recently. So although I was drawn to the period of art explored in Richard’s course (early 20th century art across Europe) I was equally keen to go on The Courtauld summer course in order to meet him and see what he was really like.

Despite Richard’s very impressive and formidable biography, he is a very approachable and friendly man; he is always laughing and making jokes. A girl from France on the course said he has a very English sense of humour. His laugh is just as distinctive.

He told me several stories about meeting or interviewing prominent artists, such as Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Duncan Grant. He remembers anticipating his interview with Francis Bacon would be one of the most challenging he would have to do. He remembers arriving with lots of prepared questions and being faced with the artist who promptly whisked him off to a bar to drink champagne. He was surprised they were not travelling to the place in private transport, but Bacon exclaimed he loved the tube. Bacon admitted that he only painted from 7.30am – 9.30am each day, after which he was no longer in a working state. Indeed, this gave him time to go and drink champagne, something that he would normally do as soon as his ‘working day’ was over. Richard remembers looking back on his shorthand notes the day after doing the interview and realizing that the material he had collected during the second half of the session was useless as it was just drunken scrawls. This was in the early 1970s, just before Bacon’s big show. Richard noted that the artist’s friend killed himself when on the toilet at the same time the show opened, and this was why Bacon went on to do a series of figures crouching or sitting (as though they could have been on the toilet) after this. Tragic. Continue reading