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A guide to Cornwall's art galleries
West Cornwall, the most southwesterly tip of the British Isles, is well known for its rugged coastline, picturesque fishing villages and thriving art community. It has long been popular with artists who, inspired by the beauty of the area and the unique quality of the natural light that is found there, formed some very important British art movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The art of the area, including traditional, modern and contemporary, is well represented throughout numerous galleries around West Cornwall. There are far too many galleries to mention, but this article aims to give an overview of some of the best.
Newlyn and Penzance
The Newlyn school of art, founded at the end of the 19th century in the pretty fishing village of Newlyn on the south coast, is well known for beautiful harbourside scenes, local characters that are naturalistic and unpretentious, and paintings that are a snapshot into the past. Famous artists of the Newlyn school include Walter Langley, Stanhope Forbes, Elizabeth Forbes and Henry Scott Tuke. The best collection of these paintings can be found at the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance, along with seasonal exhibitions focussing on local fine art; it also houses a museum. The gallery has a good cafe, and is set in an elegant Victorian house with beautiful gardens. For further info see: www.penleehouse.org.uk
The Exchange Gallery in Penzance and the Newlyn Art Gallery in Newlyn are sister galleries that specialise in showcasing the best in national and international contemporary art. They are both free to enter. See their website for details of current exhibitions and opening hours: www.newlynartgallery.co.uk.
Bear in mind that all three galleries above are closed between exhibitions for rehanging, so it's worth getting in touch beforehand if you're planning a special trip.
The 20th century saw artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson moving into the area to escape the perils of city life during the second world war; along with Naum Gabo, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and many others, they formed the St Ives colony of artists and the town has had a thriving art scene ever since. Almost every other building in the town seems to be a gallery or art studio and painters are often to be seen working on the harbourside.
Tate St Ives opened in 1993, putting St Ives firmly on the art map. Overlooking the picturesque Porthmeor beach it is an impressive and imposing building. A permanent feature of the gallery is a large stained glass window by Patrick Heron. The gallery hosts seasonal exhibitions of the best in modern and contemporary art, and often showcases work by prominent local artists. There is also a great rooftop cafe with panoramic views across St Ives and the bay.
The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden are well worth a visit. Hepworth's large abstract sculptures are beautifully set in the sub-tropical gardens of the museum. The building was her own house and studio from 1949 until she died in 1975, and her working studio is on display in the museum virtually as she left it. It is managed by the Tate gallery and information on both venues can be found at www.tate.org.uk/stives.
The Leach Pottery, on the outskirts of St Ives, was founded by Bernard Leach and Japanese born Shoji Hamada in 1920, and is considered to be the birthplace of studio pottery. The original workshop, museum exhibits, a contemporary exhibition and the current working studio make for a very interesting visit. See www.leachpottery.com for more details.
There are many privately owned galleries in St Ives, and among the commercial galleries selling work by current local artists I would recommend The New Craftsman gallery in Fore Street, the Penwith Gallery, and exhibitions by the St Ives Society of Artists. There is also a lot going on there during the September arts festival, when the town is positively bursting with art!
For some useful tips on visiting St Ives see Visiting St Ives in Cornwall