Milein Cosman (1921-2017)

Anybody who met Milein Cosman will fondly remember her. Her stature was small, but she was a bundle of energy, always curious and full of verve. She walked through life with eyes wide open, drawn to people, observant, and with an urge to promptly capture what she observed on paper. For decades she drew obsessively with few interruptions. During conversations, but also at theater performances and when she attenden concerts.

Born in Gotha in 1921, Cosman spent her childhood in Düsseldorf and at a Swiss boarding school. In 1939 she went to England to study art at the Slade School of Art. Here she was reunited with her family who, having been prosecuted as jews by the Nationalsocialists, had been forced to flee from Germany the previous year. Milein soon worked as an illutrator for various magazines and children’s books and gained a reputation as an outstanding draughtswoman and portraitist. In 1946 she moved to London and settled down in the borrough of Hamstead where she quickly became part of a vibrant community of artists, among them many fellow emigrés from Germany, such as John Heartfield or Fred Uhlmann. In 1947 she met the Viennese-born musician, writer, broadcaster and teacher Hans Keller (1919-1985) who was to become not only her most frequent model, but also soul mate and husband.

Archive and collection

In spring 2017 a curator from the Akademie der Künste contacted Milein, initially with the goal of finding out more about her friendship with John Heartfield. In a conversation which took place at her house in Hampstead, the 96 year old shared her recollections and vivdly spoke about her life and art, In an immensely generous gesture she donated to the Akademie’s art collection an group of prints and drawings. The works draw an impressive panorama of the art scene of the post-war-years in the UK. Portaits of artists from all walks of life feature prominently: Milein drew Helene Weigel during the Berliner Ensemble‘s guest performance of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in London in 1956. Artists like Joseph Beuys or her best friend Marie Luise von Motesiczky feature alongside various writers including Thomas Mann, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Erich Kästner. Especially impressive are the lively portraits of conductors, composers and musicians, such as Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, her friend and neighbour the pianist Alfred Brendel or the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1949, Cosman, commissioned by Heute magazine to draw the members of Adenauer’s post-war cabinet, returned to Germany. She donated more than 60 drawings she executed in Bonn to the art collection of the German Bundestag.

Milein would have turned 100 on 31st March 2021. On the occasion of the artist’s 101st birthday on 31 March 2022, we opened a collaborative exhibition of works by Milein Cosman from the Art Collection of the Akademie der Künste and the Bundestag’s Art Collection. The illustrated catalogue is available free of charge and via pdf download.