The Cornerstone of St Ives: Art, presented by Bob Devereux. Film sponsored by St Ives Holidays.
Artists had been visiting St. Ives for many years. Turner had been twice and in the 1860s John Brett and the marine artist Henry Moore both became regular visitors. However, it only became practical to consider living there after the arrival of the railway, which made it possible to transport large paintings back to London for exhibition.
St Ives was an ideal town for the marine painter, because the peninsula offered a wide variety of coastal scenery and studio spaces were available. Geographically it was well west, so the climate was milder and it was possible to paint out of doors for most of the year. It was also well south; this meant a better balance of daylight hours, summer and winter, which really mattered at a time when workshops were still lit by candles.
In 1884 the Right Honourable Duff Tolamache took a studio in an old sail-loft in Carncrows Street, Downalong. This is the first record of an actual studio in the town. In the same year Whistler arrived, with Walter Sickert and Mortimer Mempes, to overwinter in the town. They painted the restless sea on the inner lids of cigar boxes, trying to trap the energy of that moving mass on panels that measured nine by five inches. Their painting was about immediacy. Stanhope Forbes, the leader of the Newlyn School, referred to Whistler as ‘a dauber.’ Inspired by Bastien Lepage, Forbes was painting the fishermen at work. Sickert said that Lepage’s models were ‘frozen in time and space; they would never pick up their potatoes.’ Such arguments made the place healthy and alive.
In 1887 James Lanham opened the first gallery St Ives Art. Julius Olsson and Louis Grier started the first school of painting in 1888. Olsson rapidly established himself as the leading seascape painter of his generation.
In 1889 the St Ives Arts Club was founded. This was a centre where artists could meet and socialise. In the decades that followed St. Ives became a thriving cosmopolitan colony, with artists from France, Finland, Australia, New Zealand and the United States visiting regularly.
Before the First World War, the Canadian artist Emily Carr wrote in her diary that there were ten private schools of painting in the town. They were relatively untouched by the experimentation that was taking place on the continent; they were mainly concerned with painting the sea. During the war many young artists left the St Ives art colony to fight. Studios were reoccupied after the war, but a number of the older artists felt that the standard of painting in the town was on the wane. In 1920 Bernard Leach arrived with the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada to build a climbing kiln at Higher Stennack. Leach wanted to bridge the gap between eastern and western philosophy through art. In 1925 French style reached St Ives Art scene when Alec Walker moved his silk factory from Newlyn and joined forces with Patrick Heron’s father, Tom Heron, to set up the Cryséde Works in the town. In the midst of all this sophistication Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson, holidaying in Cornwall, chanced on the true naïve painter Alfred Wallis, who painted ‘what belonged to be.’
Borlase Smart and Leonard Fuller opened the St. Ives School of Painting in the spring of 1938. This was a goal they had committed themselves to in the trenches of the Western Front more than twenty years earlier. Smart had been living in the town following the war and persuaded Fuller to move from London to join him. Between them, they established the school in Denis Mitchell’s former studio, close by Wallis’s house, in Back Road West. The venture was an immediate success.
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