This exhibition at Two Temple Place, evoked immediate memories for me of my Cornish heritage and the times I had over the decades spent in Cornwall.
On reading the accompanying book I realised that I was also learning about art history – a subject that had eluded me ... now I was beginning to understand.
The Bulldog Trust, which owns Two Temple Place, has determined to put on temporary exhibitions showcasing publicly owned art from regional collections.
Thus the works displayed reflected the working landscape of industrial west Cornwall ... drawn from the Royal Cornwall Museum’s and other lenders’ collections.
There were a great many paintings depicting ‘working the sea’, ‘Cornish portraits’, ‘valuing craft and craftsmanship’, ‘working the land’ ‘honouring horsepower’, ‘changing Cornwall, changing art’ ...
... the works shown revolved around the quaint harbours, the rugged cliffs and farmland reflecting the working activity – creating a rural art that engaged directly with the locality and culture of the time.
Paintings of men and women at work – catching fish, forging iron, mending nets, pit landscapes – demonstrated their appreciation for everyday labour and craft skills.
|St Just Tin Miners|
by Harold Harvey
The exhibition ‘Amongst Heroes’ presented a particular view of Cornwall as defined by its traditional industries – fishing, mining and agriculture – they offered an historical geography of work in Cornwall – a concept of place and people – at a time of particular transition.
From the 1880s artists had been showing their paintings at the Royal Academy exhibiting Cornish fisher folk in their habitat ... showing the simple, honest, and unconventionally observed truth of life as it was.
The Newlyn and St Ives schools of artists had taken to ‘plein air’ - working away from the conventions of studio-based painting.
|"A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach" by|
Stanhope Forbes 1885
The very well known A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach by Stanhope Forbes (1857 - 1947) reflects the forces required to fish, land and sell their catch ...
... the busy market activities taking place on the foreshore; the small rowboats delivering fish to the shore from lug-vessels on the horizon, the fish auction at the water’s edge, and the female fish sellers –known as ‘jowsters’ – with their baskets displaying fish to prospective buyers.
Traditional costume was the norm – making use of the typical attire to evoke recognisable Cornish types ... the weathered seaman capped in his sou’wester and the fishwife in a lace bonnet.
Henry Scott Tuke’s “Our Jack” portrait (1886) is depicted in traditional oilskins and Guernsey, aboard the Lily, one of Tuke’s own boats ...
... it is at once a portrait of one local deckhand, a representative of the intrepid Cornish seafarer in his natural environment, aboard his ship and at home on the open water.
Other paintings depicted the representation of figures engaged in needlework and industrial arts revealing a keen attention to rural craft.
The importance of traditional skills in the making and mending of vital tools and materials ... metalwork in forges and workshops were of great interest to artists ...
... not least due to the arrival of several home grown arts initiatives established at Hayle and Newlyn, which encouraged artists and local people to work together.
In 1890 the Newlyn Industrial Class was set up as part of a drive by the Home Arts and Industries Association to revive craft in rural areas of Britain.
The aim was to offer gainful employment during quieter fishing seasons ... there was training in embroidery, enamelling, and repoussé metalwork ...
... this venture enabled the transfer of artistic knowledge, and strengthened links between Newlyn’s artist and fishing communities.
Apprenticeship in craft is the subject of another facet of the Cornish artist at work: the apprentice ‘working the bellows’, while the hammer-men 'at the anvil' ... emphasising the progression from trainee to master craftsman.
Working the land by hand and with horsepower – shows the traditionally harsh mining landscape around Land’s End and St Just, punctuated by multiple engine houses and undercut by an extensive system of tunnelled lodes and shafts, was also painted by visiting artists.
The rural communities were threatened – this was represented in a region undergoing fundamental changes; those customary tools and practices still used in this furthest corner of England were being preserved in paint ahead of their imminent demise.
|Pilchard catch before the Newlyn|
Pilchard Works were closed
Lines written in 1991 by Roger Bryant from a folk song:
Cornish lads are fishermen
And Cornish lads are miners too
But when the fish and tin are gone
What are the Cornish boys to do?
Evocative words reminding us of change ... going to Cornwall every year we would have seen the social changes happening under our noses ... now tourism, arts and crafts, small enterprises and some larger employers offer ‘new’ opportunities for the county ...
It was a truly intimate assembly of works – oils, watercolours, sketches, industrial art objects, a “Whiff” boat complete with equipment necessities of the age, fishing needles and nets, headline of a fishing net (with initialled cork floats), handcart with iron wheels and pulley handle, wheelbarrow, copper artefacts, a pilchard barrel and stencils ...
... the whole, especially with its accompanying book, have shown visitors an extraordinary record of the lives of working people of Cornwall in the 19th and early 20th centuries: a fresh and fascinating look at the under-appreciated period of art history.
Some of the artists whose works were displayed: Stanhope Forbes (1857 – 1947); James Clarke Hook (1819 – 1907); Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917); Christopher Wood (1901 – 1930); Harold Harvey (1874 – 1941); Henry Scott Tuke (1858 – 1929); Percy Robert Craft (1856 – 1934); Edwin Harris (1856 – 1906); Fred Hall ((1860 – 1948); Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869 – 1958); et al ...
The major settlements for artists were the Newlyn School of Painters; The St Ives School of Artists; and The Lamorna Society.
The Plutocrat’s Office – my post on Two Temple Place
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