Cornish Masters celebrates the art movements, schools and colonies of painters that evolved and flourished in Cornwall in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From Walter Langley and Edwin Harris's pioneering arrival in the fishing village of Newlyn in the early 1880s, to the heyday of the St Ives School when Mark Rothko visited Peter Lanyon and Paul Feiler in 1959, and St Ives was the distinctly British counterpart of the modern art scene in New York.
Newlyn Schoolof en plein-air Painters
In 1877 the Great Western Railway extended the UK rail network to Penzance, a mile's walk along the seafront from the fishing village of Newlyn. A couple of years later the Newlyn School of artists was pioneered by the arrival of Birmingham artists Walter Langley and Edwin Harris in Newlyn in 1882 and 1883. These artists and those that quickly followed were seeking a British equivalent to Concarneau, Quimperlé and Pont-Aven where they had experienced the en-plein air development in French realism (or Naturalism) championed by Jules Bastien-Lepage. Many finished their education in Paris Ateliers and travelled on to these French towns caught up in the excitement and vision of the new movement and art colonies. They set out to paint life honestly, as it was experienced by working people; the artist working and living amongst his or her subjects and evolving the necessary powers of observation, speed and painterly acumen to record them on canvas in situ; an artistic revolution when one compares their ambition and output to the idealised, studio conceived records of wealth and patronage that went before. Stanhope Alexander Forbes, who arrived in 1884, is widely cited as 'the father' of the Newlyn school of artists. Other founding members include Willam Wainwright, Frank Bramley, Frederick Hall, Albert Chevalier Tayler, Norman Garstin, Frank Richards, Thomas and Caroline Cooper Gotch, Elizabeth Forbes and Henry Scott Tuke prior to settling in Falmouth. Harold Harvey, Dod and Ernest Procter were amongst a later generation of Newlyn artists to study under Forbes. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Newlyn was the leading colony of artists in the country and dominated national showcases of artistic output such as the Royal Academy summer exhibitions. Today the Penlee Gallery & Museum in Penzance has a wonderful programme of exhibitions celebrating the Newlyn School and Lamorna colony.
St. Ives SchoolOf Abstract & Modern Artists
The seeds of St Ives' position as Britain's centre of modern art were sown by Ben Nicholson and his wife Barbara Hepworth when they settled there in 1939 and were shortly afterwards followed by Russian Constructivist sculptor, Naum Gabo. An earlier visit to St Ives by Nicholson and Christopher Wood and their encounter with the naive artist and fisherman Alfred Wallis, had a profound impact upon the young artists and undoubtedly influenced Nicholson's later move. After the second World War, under the leadership of Nicholson and Hepworth, St Ives began to gather pace as a centre for modern and abstract art. In the late 1940s and early 1950s a group of younger artists gathered around Hepworth and Nicholson (until the latter's departure in 1958), and the St Ives School gained critical mass becoming the centre of abstract art in the country. Just like their nineteenth century forebearers, these artists were drawn to the distinct light in St Ives, the ancient field structures, moors with their neolithic quoits and carns and a dramatic coastline in its immediate environment, not to mention the fishing community which was still very active. The principal figures of the St Ives School include Peter Lanyon, who was brought up in St Ives, Paul Feiler, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Bryan Wynter and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. They weren't always a cohesive group; Lanyon for example rejected the characterisation of himself as an abstract painter. For him a connection and understanding of place was paramount; what lay beneath the surface and went before, as important as the visual. He saw "abstraction as the process of making" and contrasted Hepworth and Nicholson's work as "academically abstract".
The Tate St Ives continues to champion the work of this remarkable collective of artists.