Climbing exhibition hits the heights

Pillar east faceAn art exhibition highlighting the development of rock climbing in the Lake District is proving to be a huge success in Grasmere.

Lines of Ascent features the work William Heaton Cooper produced for the Fell and Rock Climbing Club guides for 50 years from 1930s onwards. The books were bibles for the climbing community, showing new routes as they developed, drawn on site and working closely with the climbers at the crag face.

Since it opened in November at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the exhibition has drawn enthusiastic visitors from both the art and climbing worlds.

“We are thrilled by the response to the show,” said Becky Heaton Cooper, director and general manager of the business established by the landscape painter Alfred Heaton Cooper in 1905. His son William built the present gallery in Grasmere in 1938. For generations their paintings and books have influenced the way the landscape of the Lake District has been viewed.

“It is one of the most successful exhibitions we have ever staged, and clearly highlights the place of the Lake District as one of Britain’s cultural capitals.”

Lines of Ascent was opened by veteran climber Al Phizacklea who took on the task of illustrating the guidebooks after William Heaton Cooper. He described his own work as “technical, with none of WHC’s artistry”.

One of Britain’s pioneer female mountaineers, Gwen Moffat, now 90, hailed Heaton Cooper’s influence as a climber and guidebook illustrator. “He was a man who knew his mountains; in his illustrations the routes are lines running up pencil-shaded rock where every crack and overhang, every buttress is correct and matched neatly to the text.”

Alongside the drawings, guides and journals are climbing photographs from the 1930s and 1940s from Heaton Cooper’s private album, as well as some of his paintings that reference the mid-twentieth century climbing scene, including some not seen before.

There is also an Alpine sketch-book of drawings and  sketches of the Grandes Jorasses from above the original Couvercle Hut, and crowded interiors of the old hut in the 1950s.

But one of the most striking works in the show is the huge oil painting of the Eiger North Face by Julian Heaton Cooper, the son of William Heaton Cooper and the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell. He is an internationally known painter and a member of the Alpine Club who has climbed throughout Britain and the Alps.

Lines of Ascent runs until the end of April and admission is free.

East ButtressScafell WHC

Scafell East Buttress

  • The Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere was opened by William Heaton Cooper in 1938.    It is a hugely popular tourist attraction, with more than 90,000 visitors last year. It features work by the Heaton Cooper family and guest artists, with the Lakeland landscape at the heart of the gallery’s displays.


  • The Heaton Cooper family tree is a pictorial essay on the development of art in the Lake District and beyond. There are 10 artists represented, including the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell, (herself the daughter of the animal painter Winifred Gordon Bell) and Julian Cooper, the internationally renowned painter whose recent work has been concerned with finding a relevant contemporary language for painting mountains and rock all over the world. The most well known works are by Alfred and William, each distinctively capturing the magnificence and beauty of rock and fell, stream and lake.

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