Education and employment
Cooper studied art history at the University of Sussex graduating in 1996; she studied Dutch and Flemish painters for her masters degree. She obtained a D Phil from the University of Sussex in 2002. She was Assistant Curator of the College Art Collections and taught art history at University College London. She moved to the NPG in 2002 to become the 16th Century Curator. She leads the "Making of Tudor Art" project which began April 2007 and will run for seven years. This project will provide a detailed and comprehensive scientific survey of Tudor paintings in the NPG. The NPG received a grant from the Getty Foundation to enable her to write Citizen Portrait based in part on her D Phil dissertation together with her research in her role as curator at the NPG. In 2010 she was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by the Paul Mellon Centre which enabled her to complete the book. She was appointed Chief Curator at the NPG in 2011 and was elected as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in June of that year.
During her time at UCL, she curated two exhibitions from the college's collections. She co-curated (with David Starkey) the exhibition Elizabeth I at the National Maritime Museum in 2003 and was a contributor to the catalogue. She curated Searching for Shakespeare at the National Portrait Gallery in 2006. She is the curator of the exhibition Elizabeth I & her people which will be held at the NPG from October 2013 to January 2014. This exhibition will include a miniature portrait of Elizabeth I found in a house clearance in 2012, that Cooper described as "a very high quality image by a 16th-century artist".
- Cooper, Tarnya, ed. (1997). Refashioning Death; Vanitas and Momento Mori Prints from Northern Europe, 1540-c1640. University College.
- Cooper, Tarnya, ed. (2000). Drawing Practices, Mediums and Methods, 1500–1950. University College.
- Cooper, Tarnya (2003). "The Queen's Visual Presence". In Starkey, David. Elizabeth I; The Exhibition Catalogue. Chatto & Windus.
- Cooper, Tarnya (2006). Searching for Shakespeare. National Portrait Gallery Publications.
- Cooper, Tarnya (2008). Tudor and Jacobean Portraiture. National Portrait Gallery Publications.
- Cooper, Tarnya (2012). Citizen Portrait. Yale University Press.
- Cooper, Tarnya; Archer, Ian W; Orlin, Lena Cowen (2013). Elizabeth I & Her People. National Portrait Gallery. ISBN 978-1855144651.