The arrival in Newlyn of well-heeled "foreigners" armed
with paint-boxes and easels during the 1880s must have been an unnerving
experience for local people.
Their fey ways, affluent lifestyles and insistence on capturing on
canvas the everyday lives of villagers were about as alien to the residents of
Street-an-Nowan or Tolcarne as a pilchard jumping out of its net and singing
the National Anthem.
What's more, these artists were even prepared to pay people to do
nothing: sitting was suddenly considered "work" and idling in rough
clothes all day could earn young and old as much as a "proper" job.
The early members of what has become known as the Newlyn School of
painters – who included Albert Chevallier Tayler, Samuel John Lamorna Birch,
Henry Scott Tuke, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Norman Garstin and Stanhope Forbes –
became a curiosity and a meal ticket for many years. Their large-scale canvases
of fishermen, jowsters and farmhands soon found favour in London institutes
like the Royal Academy. But
as the years passed interest waned and by the 1960s, few had any interest – or
even knowledge – of these pioneers of British Impressionism. It was
possible to pick up their work for just a few
pounds. More commonly,
canvases were stripped from frames and discarded or allowed to decay.
It took a major reappraisal of Newlyn artists by the Tate Gallery
in the mid-1970s to rekindle interest in the movement. And since then their
reputation has continued to grow.
This month another London gallery will stage a major exhibition of
Newlyn paintings, many being hung together for the first time and at least one
going on public show for the first time.
Amongst Heroes: The Artist In Working Cornwall opens in the
opulent surroundings of Two Temple Place on January 26 as part of a series of
annual showcase collections from outside the capital.
Organised in partnership with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro,
it will feature work loaned by public and private collections, including Penlee
Gallery and Museum in Penzance, Falmouth's National Maritime Museum and the
Newlyn School Gallery in Penzance.
Royal Cornwall Museum director Hilary Bracegirdle, who has been
working closely with curators at Two Temple Place, said: "This is a real
coup for Cornwall, it is a really big deal. More than 50,000 people saw last
year's exhibition about William Morris and the likelihood is that this will be
even more popular, particularly as Time Out has already named it as one the
highlights of 2013. It takes a fascinating and unusual angle by combining
social and geographic history with art history – portraying the Cornish person
Mrs Bracegirdle described the setting for the show as
"extraordinary". Built in 1895 by John Loughborough Pearson – who
also designed Truro Cathedral – Two Temple Place was the home of William
Waldorf Astor. Astor had a penchant for luxury fixtures, stone carvings,
parapets and ornate metalwork – all of which survive.
The Newlyn paintings will be displayed alongside historical
artifacts seen in the paintings, including a traditional oyster dredger,
net-making tools and a mining handcart from St Just.
"This is the most
significant grouping of Cornish artworks to be displayed outside of the region
in recent decades," said curator Roo Gunzi. "Amongst Heroes
re-approaches the work of pioneering Newlyn artists who are widely regarded to
be a British response to Impressionism. Focusing on representations of people
at work between 1880 and 1920, it highlights the remarkable art produced in
Cornwall at this time, celebrating a way of life now long gone."
Amongst Heroes: The Artist In Working Cornwall opens at Two Temple
Place, close to London's Victoria Embankment, on January 26 and continues until
And the good news for art lovers in the South West is that the
bulk of the collection will transfer to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro in