Monday 27 May 2013

Amongst Heroes: the Artist in Working Cornwall

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.

Charles Napier Hemy
"The Fisherman" 1888
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.

Harold Harvey
"The Old Slip Newlyn" 1908
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
"Our Jack" 1886
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.
John Pearson
Copper Charger 1893

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.

Lucy Kemp-Welch
"Horses" 1900
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 ...

Fishing Needles
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 

For an overview of Two Temple Place ... please see the excellent write up by Spitalfields Life - here:  At Two Temple Place ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Cornwall has a fascinating culture, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing, Hilary. I took 2 art history classes (ages ago, obviously), and what interested me the most (and what seems to most interest you) is where the art intersected with history and where it told a story about a different era. It's a window on another time, isn't it? I love the "Fish Sale" painting...fascinating! The dress and the way they're conducting business.

J.L. Murphey said...

Fascinating. Didn't know that much about til now. Thanks for the education.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elizabeth .. you're absolutely right - I'd written this as a two parter post - including the history as well as my memories - but I'll post it later in the year .. there's so much else going on.

I love your comment - such a great addition ... thanks so much. Cheers Hilary

Old Kitty said...

I'm really drawn to the Tin Miner painting! I like the rebellious faces of the men - the one with the ciggie hanging from his lips ala James Dean! It's very youthful and defiant! I really like it!!!

Thanks Hilary! Take care

Jo said...

Some great paintings. I spent my honeymoon in Cornwall and met many fishermen at the time. These paintings are so evocative. We ended up bringing home two humungous crabs which we and inlaws enjoyed.


mail4rosey said...

How wonderful that the history is opening up a better understanding of the art. The older I get, the more I appreciate the value of history. I enjoyed your post.

Julia Hones said...

It is fascinating to see how art shows us so much about the history of Cornwall. This is one of the many reasons why I believe subjects should not be studied as "separate boxes". Literature, history, art... they are all woven into the same fabric.

Unknown said...

How interesting! I think the paintings are lovely and there is so much to learn about life back then from art.

A Lady's Life said...

I love paintings and especially the history behind them.
I love hand made things and feel industrialization has hurt craft and
pride in creating things with a personal touch.It turned life and living, into a throw away mode, precious to no one.We as humans, are the losers.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Hilary, of course, I love these paintings. I've never seen any of them before, and they are exquisite. Thank you for sharing them and the history that goes with them.

Mary Montague Sikes

TALON said...

Looks like a truly remarkable show, Hilary. Even more special when you have close ties with the area. I adore that painting of the horses! :)

D.G. Hudson said...

I appreciate any paintings which show history and life 'as it was'. Thanks for sharing these photos and some of the history behind them.

Artists and writers are sometimes better at portraying the times than the history books. I'd love to visit the English seashore villages.

Tina said...

Love those paintings, and the fantastic history lesson! Truly great how one can see the history of a place through the eyes of the artists depicting the times they lived in. Man, I'd like to go see that exhibit.
Tina @ Life is Good

jabblog said...

It is sad to see the demise of a community and the ensuing struggle to find an alternative means of making a livelihood. I suppose that's evolution, really - adapt or go under.

Karen Lange said...

Thank you, Hilary, for this rich and wonderful history lesson! I find I understand and can put together historical events better as an adult too. Not sure why that is exactly, but I am glad!

Have a lovely week! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

JL - glad you enjoyed the post - thanks.

@ Old Kitty - oh I'm glad I posted that picture .. the art work is extraordinary .. I see what you mean re the likeness to James Dean - the one next to him is pretty supercilious looking - it is as you say youthful and defiant .. thanks so much ..

@ Jo - yes the pictures bring back many memories of the years in Cornwall through the ages .. we used to have a crabbery below my mother's care home - and had crabs from there .. certainly when I was down visiting - delicious!

@ Rosey - this small exhibition had so much scope .. and like you - now I really enjoy history so much .. thanks and so pleased you enjoyed the post.

@ Julia - you're right there about studying things together - as all disciplines affect each other and our lives as a whole. The art certainly has given us the history of the time ..

@ Clarissa - that's what I appreciated .. how much we can learn from the pictures about so much.

@ A Lady's Life - industrialisation is a necessary evil, thankfully there are many crafts that are still around or being recreated .. we need both aspects.

@ Monti - yes you're the one who would so appreciate these paintings and I'm glad I've opened your eyes to the artist's work. I loved your recent animal cards - they were fun.

@ Karen - well I hope you can get over sometime and then perhaps I can show you around ... ?!

@ Talon - yes the post got intertwined with many thoughts .. I'll have to post again at some stage ... oh I'm so pleased I put the horse picture in - Lucy Kemp-Welch is renowned for her equine pictures ..

@ DG - it was a wonderful exhibition to have been privileged to see .. and this has made me appreciate paintings far more than I'd realised was possible.

The villages and coastlines are very picturesque, quaint and challenging ... you'd love them.

@ Tina - I loved reading about the exhibition and how it was put together .. but the memories of childhood and years gone by were also brought back to life. Sorry but the exhibition has closed - it's here for all to read! Well some of it ...

@ Janice - you're right it has been difficult watching one's beloved county struggle with the economic depressive decades - we each need to help ourselves and look after our communities .. it is adapt somehow ...

@ Karen - so pleased you enjoyed the post .. and as you say it does seem to be easier to understand as we get older (sad but true!) .. but I'm glad I can appreciate new things ..

Thanks everyone - so pleased you've enjoyed this posting .. Hilary

Christine Rains said...

What a wonderfully fascinating post. Thank you! :)

Inger said...

Dear Hilary, first -- thank you so much for your kind words about me and my blog posts. Your words really touched my heart.

On to this -- I have always liked art in all its different forms, but these paintings display some of my favorites of scenes around the water, old boats, fishermen, and so on. I love the way you take time to make your posts so perfect, so interesting, so educational and most of all, so enjoyable. I now know what it takes to write a blog post so I know the effort you put in and I must tell you I really appreciate it. said...

I really like the subtle colors in the paintings. Their faces are very evocative too. Thanks for this bit of history, Hilary.

Be well.

Martha said...

Definitely fascinating Hilary. Thank you for today's history lesson :)

Chuck said...

What culture there is in all that. I am sure you enjoyed yourself immensely, Hilary. I would love to see this place.

On a side note, I have just finished watching the Showtime series, The Tudors. I was so hooked on the historic story of Henry VIII and all that went on in England and Europe during his reign. I don't know if you've heard of it but I could not stop watching...almost 40 hours for the whole show!

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Al Diaz said...

Those are amazing paintings! I wish I could paint like that. Specially "A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach" and "St. Just Tin Miners". Very nice.

Unknown said...

hey Hillary I never made it to Cornwell in my three years of living in England and I can tell I missed a lot.

thanks for sharing such a wonderful post I appreciate it and you have a great week:-)

dolorah said...

I love poking through old museums in small towns and seeing what artifacts were common place utensils and art at the time.


Leigh Covington said...

I love art, but I don't know all the educational sides to it. It's so beautiful and inspiring though. Thanks for sharing. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Christine .. so pleased to read.

@ Inger - it's a pleasure .. I love visiting your part of the world and reading more about Sweden.

Thank you - I so appreciate these words .. I enjoy the learning process .. so putting my thoughts into the blog with accompanying pictures remind me of so much.

@ Robyn - I was so interested to see the exhibition .. and loved the works of art exhibited which reflected a time in the life of Cornwall.

@ Martha - so happy to know you enjoyed the post ..

@ Chuck - I did - the place and the exhibits were quite extraordinary.

I didn't watch that series .. it was when my mother was still alive and so I was pretty exhausted all the time .. but there's a new series coming up and I'll watch that. There was also a programme recently on Thomas Cromwell that was very interesting and informative.

Henry VIII ruled over a very interesting period - so much happened .. sometimes it's difficult to get one's head round all the nuances .. and subsequent effects on our life today ..

@ Al - thanks for coming by - I just would love to be able to paint .. but was so pleased to see the Exhibition ...

@ Mark - yes, I think you probably did miss out - but you'd have seen plenty of other areas. You can always comes back with the family sometime!!

@ Donna - yes some museums are just delightful - small and unique .. artefacts too ... though I enjoy having things explained!

@ Leigh - I appreciated the book that accompanied the Exhibition - as it explained much to me.

Thanks so much for visiting .. cheers Hilary

Patsy said...

Wonderful paintings - there's so much going on in them.

Vallypee said...

Hilary, this looks lovely and some of the paintings are gorgeous. I agree with Patsy here - so busy and so much going on. I am, however, intrigued by this word 'jowster' and have tried looking up its derivation, but I can't find anything about it. Do you happen to know where it comes from?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Patsy - it was an amazing range of art work - beautiful to look at.

@ Val - the context of the word 'jowster' is as I've quoted it - I can't find a reference .. but as I've moved my books around .. I can't find my Cornish dictionary - and it might just be in there .. I'll check when I get to find the dictionaries again!

Cheers to you both .. Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

Paintings that reveal everyday life are so much more interesting than stiff portraits. I think the fish one is beautiful. Thanks for sharing this post.

Kittie Howard said...

I had just settled in with a mid-morning cup of tea when I opened your post. Needless to say, I lingered over so much -- from the paintings to the history. I've been close to visiting Cornwall several times but never made it, much to my continuing disappointment. However, during one excursion that came close to Cornwall, I encountered a mother and her two daughters, in traditional dress (and with plaits hanging on either side of their heads) who spoke in English, I think, but I didn't understand a word. (British friends from Chester said they also had problems at times, so I felt better.) Anyway, it was an awesome experience. And, yep, I watch Doc Martin!

Annalisa Crawford said...

Beautiful Cornwall!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What wonderful paintings! I'd be hard-pressed to choose my favorite from the ones you've shown, let alone from all the other paintings that must have been in the exhibit. I'm in awe of painters who so realistically capture a moment in time. Their works make history come alive far better than a written account.

Laura Eno said...

I am reminded again how much history England holds and each area having its own special stories. (though the paintings bring to mind the messy, smelly business of fish before refrigeration). :)
I long to get back to GB and spend some time poking around.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

As one who has travelled that special part of England that is Cornwall, your comprehensive article amplifies my recollections. I particularly liked the Stanhope Forbes painting. And of course, St. Ives is very much noted for its artists.

Thank you for this, Hilary.

Happy, sunny wishes.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Theresa - I hadn't really realised how much paintings revealed ... but now I can see new things and will look more carefully at the next gallery I visit. The portraits exhibited of Cornish folk were simple and relaxed in style ..

@ Kittie - well I'm delighted you enjoyed the post so much .. the dialect is very different and I struggle understanding sometimes - where the dialect is very strong - be it Cornwall, Devon, Wales, the North East, Scotland, East London and even Sussex at times!

Perhaps they were dressed up for some Saint's Day festival or feast .. the old customs are being retained in parts.

I don't watch Doc Martin! But glad you enjoy it and see something of the Cornish coast around Port Isaac.

@ Annalisa - as one who lives in Cornwall .. you know it well!

@ Susan - there were some stunning works and more than I've shown here as you say. They have created the world, so we can see what it was like .. and the works show history in the making - without words, though I was grateful for some of the explanations.

@ Laura - history is all around us here .. well our living history, the history we know about .. 2,000 years of it. Well they had food - but industrialisation of fishing .. waste as fish is disposed of because it doesn't fit the regulations is crazy. It is easier now .. but we've lost the taste of fish straight from the sea to oven, to mouth - straight off the bone .. delicious!

It will be good to meet up when you get here ..

@ Gary - it is as gorgeous part of the world .. I hope to travel around Wales some more sometime .. St Ives does have a rich history of artists and sculptors .. there's plenty there now ... and I agree with you and everyone else - how magnificent the Stanhope Forbes painting is - to see it in real life was lovely - there's lots of reproductions around.

Cheers to you all from a lovely sunny, windless south coast! Hilary

Juliet said...

What an interesting collection of paintings, and I really like the photo of the pilchards so artistically arranged in the barrel. I love Cornwall, and spent a winter there once, in a little cottage in Lerryn, near Lostwithiel. The coast reminded me of NZ, and I loved the fishing villages, so the paintings brought back some good memories. Thank you Hilary for keeping me in touch with the human side of British history.

Rosalind Adam said...

Cornwall is so beautiful it's easy to forget just how much industry there was there once. Beauty for us, the tourist, means unemployment for the locals I suppose.

Deniz Bevan said...

Lovely post, Hilary. I'm glad I can share the experience vicariously through you! I find Cornwall fascinating, and would love to visit it again someday.
Isn't Kieron Williamson also Cornish (I might be wrong). What a talented boy he is!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Juliet - I never went to the Pilchard works, which were at the bottom of the hill! when it was open, but now I wish I had!! There was a lot of history about the pilchards ..

The Lostwithiel area is lovely too I often spent quite a lot of time in the St Austell area -

I'd imagine New Zealand and Cornwall coasts are similar in places .. but delighted to read I brought back some memories for you.

@ Ros - times change and there's not much we can do about it .. I would hope we make better plans now .. but I'm not so sure.

@ Deniz - wonderful you enjoyed seeing the history with me .. I hope you can get to visit one day ..

Kieron Williamson - having not heard of him .. I see he's a 10 year old boy, who is a fantastic artist. The Cornish connection is that that is where he, aged 5 in 2008, asked for sketch pad and started his artistic journey, while on holiday.

Now he exhibits at Holt, north Norfok, where the family live, and at the Delamere Arts Festival, south Devon ... as you say he's very talented.

Thanks Deniz .. interesting to hear about Kieron ... his aspirations are pretty serious too ....

Cheers to you and thanks so much .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

Finally, just sent you an email, then followed the link in your email to this post. Ah Cornwall. Still have those picture postcards you sent me. Love them. And I can always watch an episode of Doc Martin to revel in the place, since that's where they filmed the series. All so lovely! Beautiful post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ann- thanks for leaving a comment here - sorry it went off to Moderation and I just looked, so rescued it!

It was an incredible exhibition .. and thanks because I probably need to link across to my T post of yesterday ..

Glad you enjoyed the postcards .. and seeing Cornwall .. even though you have Doc Martin ..

Cheers for now and I owe you an email .. getting there! Hilary