Milein Cosman’s work is held in over 40 institutions worldwide.
Milein 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 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.
At 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 is therefore fitting that a collection of her work should find its home in one of London’s most important concert halls. The whole collection is on permanent exhibition at the Wigmore Hall and can be viewed online here.
A 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 slideshow of a small selection can be viewed here. The new RCM Museum building opening in 2021 features another permanent exhibition of Milein Cosman’s work.
Milein 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. A selection of images from the collection, including drawings from the 1952 European tour of Porgy and Bess can be viewed 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.