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Britten by Cosman

Over 1,000 Milein Cosman sketches acquired by Royal College of Music Museum

Monday 3 December 2018

The Royal College of Music Museum has acquired 1,300 musical portraits by celebrated German artist Milein Cosman, many of which have never been publically available before.

The remarkable collection includes drawings of major composers and performers, many signed by the artist, and offers an unparalleled glimpse into the rich musical culture of 20th century Britain. The drawings were donated by Cosman herself and depict many RCM alumni, notably Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst and Amaryllis Fleming.

Composers Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss and Leonard Bernstein; conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy and Simon Rattle; and performers András Schiff, Mstislav Rostropovich and André Tchaikowsky are also captured in the collection. There are 50 drawings of Stravinsky, most drawn at the BBC Studios in Maida Vale when the composer visited London in 1959. Cosman sketched incredibly quickly, capturing the movement, mood and character of her subject. One musician will often be drawn in various poses one after another, building a ‘narrative’ which captures how the subject moved and gestured.

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On Wednesday 20 February 2019 the RCM will celebrate the acquisition with a special concert and exhibition. The Gift of Music: Cosman Collection will feature music by some of the renowned musicians featured in the sketches, alongside fascinating talks about Cosman’s life and creative process from experts including official biographer Ines Schlenker.

Royal College of Music Museum Curator, Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, says: ’I am most grateful to Milein Cosman for her generosity in donating the largest collection of her works to the RCM Museum. Her drawings uniquely capture the musical essence of the people that she sketched over her long life, offering a visual history of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century and the College’s significance at the time.’

Generous financial support from the Pilgrim Trust will enable the full digitisation of the collection by the RCM Museum and help fund a programme of further documentation, research and dissemination. Once catalogued and researched, the collection will be the largest of any public institution and prove an invaluable resource for musicians, researchers, historians and scholars.