Art in West Cornwall

Light and landscape…

For at least two centuries, the light and landscape of Cornwall has attracted artists. Early visitors included J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), Whistler (1834-1903), Sickert (1860-1942), while home-grown artists included the “Cornish Wonder” John Opie (1761-1807), as well as less well known painters such as Richard T. Pentreath (1806-1869) and John Henry Martin (1835-1908). The majority of the works produced by these painters were landscapes and seascapes.

West Cornwall boasts two famous fishing ports whose names have become synonymous with two eras of British painting – Newlyn and St. Ives. Separated by the neck of the Penwith peninsula, Newlyn lies on the South coast of the peninsula, with St Ives some seven miles away on the North coast.

In the late 1800s, artists from all over Europe and from America flocked to Brittany, in particular to Concarneau and Pont Aven, attracted by the clear light and abundance of subject matter and following a vogue for painting ‘en plein air’. In the 1880s, with the arrival of the railways, British artists began to discover that West Cornwall provided a similar source of inspiration closer to home. Soon, a whole host of artists began to settle in the tiny fishing ports of Newlyn, to the west of Mount’s Bay, and St Ives, forming the renowned artists’ colonies known as the Newlyn  and the St Ives Schools.

Many artists still choose to settle in Penzance or St Ives and their surrounding areas on the Penwith peninsula. The Penwith landscape, featuring St Michael’s Mount, historic fishing villages, dramatic cliffs, bleak moorlands peppered with ancient sites and vast, sculptural rock forms, together with the clarity of the light and the sparkling azure seas, continue to inspire artists and craftsmen alike. Once experienced by an artist, it seems that the West Cornwall peninsula cannot but leave a permanent impact on their lives and their art.