An artist’s guide to Cornwall
Cornwall has long been a Mecca to those within the creative industries. JMW Turner may have been the first to draw attention to the area by describing it as Britain’s answer to the Mediterranean in his armchair travel guide. This followed by the introduction of a railway line from London to the area opened it up to the art scene. Coupling the famous quality of light with the stunning geography and cheaper living, by the early 20th century, a bohemian hub was born in the South West to rival the Capital.
Since then, a variety of art schools, museums, galleries and movements have been linked to this corner of the West Country and this has bred a creative community in Cornwall. For those looking to explore the creative history and the areas current artists, it is easy to visit the towns below while enjoying your holidays in Looe, Cornwall.
The pretty colourful boats that reside in Newlyn Harbour signify the main industry of this fishing town, but also the models that attracted artists to the area. The subject of normal daily life coupled with fantastic light quality and the removal from formal society helped establish the community in Newlyn.
From the 1880s to the early 20th century, the art community thrived and even established the Newlyn School which was an artistic movement that focused on the pure setting and emphasised the natural light. The Newlyn School of Art was formed in 2011 and is a provider of courses taught by some of Cornwall’s most prominent artists.
Newlyn Art Gallery showcases some of the best art in the area and with events and exhibitions that focus on themes that are close to the heart of Newlyn, it continues to be an invaluable asset to the community.
Samuel John Birch was an English artist who found his way to Cornwall following the interest that had been drummed up by the Newlyn group of artists. Instead of settling in Newlyn, Birch found himself drawn to Lamorna Valley and Cove and became the founding father of the second wave of the Newlyn artists known as the Lamorna Group.
Birch’s attachment to the area was so strong that he adopted the epithet ‘Lamorna’ to distinguish himself from another artist, Lionel Birch. Lamorna Valley Group is a group of artists that was established in 2009 to follow the tradition of the artistic community in the area.
As a smaller town without the tourism that is seen around other coastal towns in Cornwall, exhibitions are a much less formal affair. There are events held in the town hall but artists will often open their studios during events like Cornwall Open Studios.
This seaside resort and holiday destination has no shortage of artistic pedigree. Though the art communities in St Ives were formed slightly later than their counterparts in Newlyn, they were more prolific. Sydney Laurence, an American artist, was one of the first established artists in the area. After visiting there with his wife, his stay extended nearly fifteen years.
Other artists from abroad studied or visited St Ives as part of their artistic education, including Emily Carr, a Canadian artist who was one of the first painters in Canada to adopt a Modernist and Post- Impressionist painting style. After the First World War, the St Ives School was formalised and the town began to gain a reputation. Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada installed the town’s link to pottery in the 1920s after they established Leach Pottery.
During World War 2, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and their families travelled to and fell in love with St Ives. Hepworth lived in St Ives from 1949 until her death in 1975. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is dedicated to her work.
The Crypt Group is a later group of artists in St Ives who broke with the St Ives School, feeling they were too conservative and did not appreciate the modern art that was hung in the least prominent places in exhibitions. This splinter group took to exhibiting their work separately, most famously in the crypt of the church that lent them their name. This group went on to found the Penwith Society of Artists.
The Tate in Cornwall has become a beacon for contemporary art in the area and features exhibitions of prominent artists that have pushed the movements of modern art in Cornwall and St Ives especially.
Though Penzance has never been the source of an artistic movement like Lamorna and Newlyn, the town that is important to the art scene since it made its way west. As one of the larger towns in the area, it has its fair share of both commercial art galleries and those exhibiting local and famous Artists work.
Penzance was also the home of Alfred Wallis, though he was discovered later, after his wife’s death in St Ives. Alfred Wallis was one of the forerunners to the artistic communes in the area, but his naïve art (art that lacks formal education and training) inspired many local artists in the years since.
Penzance is home to Penlee House, which started as a gracious Victorian Home but after several owners, it became the property of Penzance Town Council and is now a museum celebrating the skill and craftsmanship of Cornish painters.
Many renowned art galleries have premises in Penzance and are great for those visiting who wish to take home a slice of Cornwall’s creative scene. The Light House Gallery features a variety of mixed media, from sculpture and paintings to ceramics and jewellery, all handcrafted by local artists. With lots of exhibitions throughout the year, there is always something exciting happening at The Light House Gallery.
The Cornwall Contemporary is another art gallery that is well worth visiting in Penzance. After over a decade, the gallery is renowned for the unique and quality art is displays within its spacious venue. The ground floor is dedicated to galleries that have an ever-changing programme of both solo and group exhibitions which rotate on a monthly basis. The two upper floors are devoted to a changing mixed display of work by gallery artists. This gallery also continues to show mixed medias, so painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking and jewellery are always on display.