Works in public institutions

Milein Cosman’s work is held in over 40 institutions worldwide.
Here are some of the larger collections that can be explored online.

National Portrait GalleryMilein Cosman famously drew a great many of the significant figures of the cultural life of Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. As Ernst Gombrich said in 1996, ‘Posterity will be grateful to Milein Cosman above all for the sureness of her eye, with which she has succeeded in capturing the unique quality of so many of our distinguished contemporaries.’ The National Portrait Gallery’s collection of her work (which includes her self-portrait in oil and her famous life-sized sculpture of the head of her husband Hans Keller) can be explored online here.

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow was one of the first public collections to establish a representative selection of Milein Cosman’s work. In 2002, the artist made a generous gift of 87 prints, partly in memory of her brother Cornelius Cosman (1914-1979). Cornelius studied Applied Chemistry at the University of Glasgow in the 1930s and persuaded Milein to escape to England in 1939. A small group of drawings was purchased from the artist in 2002, supported by the National Fund for Acquisitions. A further 29 drawings were acquired after the 2014 retrospective exhibition in Gotha, Germany.  Like the selection of prints, the drawings cover a full range of date and subject matter, from works made as a student at the Slade in the 1940s, to strong works made for publication in journals in 1950s, including three of the drawings made for an article about the first performance of Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess in 1952. The collection can be explored here.

Wigmore HallAt the beginning of 1947, Milein Cosman was commissioned by the Radio Times to draw the composer and conductor Constant Lambert in rehearsal at the BBC’s studios in Maida Vale – the first of hundreds of such commissions from the BBC. Later that same year she met her future husband, Hans Keller, with whom she went to as many rehearsals and concerts as possible, drawing musicians in action. It was therefore fitting that a collection of her work should find its home in one of London’s most important concert halls. In 2005 the Wigmore Hall purchased a collection of over 50 of her portraits of great musicians of the twentieth century, and they remained on public exhibition there for 15 years. The whole collection can now be viewed online here.

Royal College of MusicA considerably larger collection of Milein Cosman’s portraits of musicians was established in 2017, when the Royal College of Music’s museum acquired 1,300 of her drawings and prints. The whole collection has now been digitised and can be explored here, and a selection via Google Arts & Culture can be viewed here. The new RCM Museum building which opened in 2021 includes a permanent exhibition of Milein Cosman’s work in its adjacent Lavery Gallery, and her work regularly features in the Museum’s temporary exhibitions.

PlusMilein Cosman was also famous for her drawings of dancers, sparked by the visit to London in 1946 of a troupe of Indonesian dancers whose performances had captivated her. A large collection containing hundreds of her drawings, etchings, paintings, sketchbooks and further materials relating to her portrayal of dancers was donated to the University of Salzburg’s ‘Music and Migration’ collection in 2017. Additional material was added to the collection in 2019. The images have all been digitised and collated in a Findbuch which can be accessed here, and a display from the collection can be viewed via Google Arts & Culture here.

Milein Cosman’s first few years in the UK were spent in Oxford, as a student at the Slade School of Fine Art, which was evacuated to Oxford after the outbreak of the Second World War, and merged temporarily with Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art. An account of this deeply formative time in Milein Cosman’s life, when she met, drew and formed close friendships with many significant artists, writers and musicians, can be read here.  In 2004 the Ashmolean Museum acquired a collection of her work from that wartime period, including sketchbooks, drawings, lithographs, her oil painting of a wartime scene in Oxford’s famous Eagle and Child pub, and the manuscript of the children’s book she created in 1943 with Roger Lancelyn Green: The Sad Prince. The collection has been digitised and can be viewed online here.

In 1949, Milein Cosman returned to her homeland for the first time since the war, having been commissioned by George Weidenfeld to create a pictorial record of war-damaged German cities. A few months later she returned with a prestigious commission to draw the members of Konrad Adenauer’s newly-formed government of the Federal Republic of Germany, in its new capital, Bonn. Returning to the Rhineland, which she had last seen as a teenager, was an emotional experience, and a fascinating one, as she followed the daily routine of the politicians, sitting in on plenary sessions and private meetings. She drew individual portraits of all the members of the cabinet, some members of the opposition and the Allied High Commission, as well as Federal President Theodor Heuss and Carlo Schmid, Vice-President of the Bundestag. The drawings were published in the German-American magazine Heute, after which they have never been seen in public until Milein Cosman gave the whole collection to the German Government art collection shortly before her death. She also gave to the Akademie der Künste a number of her drawings and etchings of important artistic figures, which can be seen here. An important exhibition featuring both collections was opened at the Bundestag in 2022: see here for details.