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Why Does Cornwall Inspire?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Cornwall has become a honey pot for artists. Jenny Agutter explores some of the reasons why.

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Jenny Agutter Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

As soon as Jenny Agutter was introduced to Cornwall she immediately fell in love with it. Touched by the place and the magic she feels very small in an extraordinary landscape. Ever Wondered sent her out to understand why it’s a landscape that has inspired many artists...

In order to find out Jenny’s first stop is St. Ives’ top tourist attraction the Tate Gallery on Porth Meor beach ...

The Tate Gallery, St Ives Jenny: This is an amazing building in a fantastic location. How did it come about?

Ina Coles: Well this used to be the site of the town’s old gas works, so that’s why you still have the circular shape which actually echoes aspects of what was here before.

Jenny: Well talking about echoes it actually echoes literally, with the sea coming in.

Ina Coles : Yes, absolutely, it’s almost like you’ve got a shell to your ear. It really is quite fabulous. A lot of the work we show here is inspired by the landscape we’ve got right outside the gallery.

Jenny: Tell me about Ben Nicholson’s work.

Jenny with Ina Coles Ina Coles:In a lot of Ben’s work you can see there are figurative elements as well as introducing sharp abstract shapes to make up the overall composition. At that time that would certainly been very innovative indeed. Although he wasn’t actually a Cornishman!

Jenny Agutter: But if you look at Alfred Wallis, who was Cornish, his paintings are very naïve. How does this fit in with what the Cornish artists were doing?

Ina Coles: Ben Nicholson came to St. Ives back in 1928 with Christopher Wood and stumbled across Wallis painting away in his house, and he had a naïvety and a purity of vision which is an ingredient that they were looking for at that time and it was something that they naturally found in Wallis.

Jenny:Terry Frost paintings are very abstract, are they still inspired by the Cornish countryside?

Ina Coles:Yes they are, his painting called "Walking Along the Quay" which he painted in the 1950’s, relates directly to an early morning stroll that he used to take along the quay in St. Ives. Here he became totally fascinated by the sunrise, the light on the water, the way the boats would bob up and down in the water and the way the masts would be criss-crossing over.

Next stop: Jenny visited Terry Frost at his home, to ask about how he felt influenced by the landscapes in Cornwall...
Sadly, since recording this interview, Terry Frost has died.

Terry Frost Jenny: Do your paintings still reflect how you feel?

Terry Frost: To me, particular paintings make me feel as if you’re alone on the moors, and the wind’s blowing. You’ve got music, you are in the lap of the Gods. And all your thoughts, all your philosophical ideas are milling around. But I don’t tend to think about that when I’m trying to paint as I have to try and focus on the painting!

Terry Frost with painting Jenny: When you painted your boats, people saw the semi circle as just the hull of the boat.

Terry Frost: I have always liked that shape. To me it is everything, the sun, breasts, moon. It’s better then religion!

The painters in Cornwall have not always been concerned with modernism. In Newlyn 100 years ago, artists were looking for a very different kind of inspiration. Jenny visits the Penlee House Museum to find out…

Alison Lloyd Alison Lloyd: The Gallery specializes in showing work by the Newlyn school of artists, which isn’t strictly speaking a school but a colony, a group of artists that came and settled here and painted the people and the light. They loved the earthiness of the way that people made a living from the sea.

Jenny: So one’s seeing the people in work situations, real situations.

Norman Garstedt's painting of Penzance Alison Lloyd : Yes, an example of this can been seen in "The Rain It Raineth Everyday" by Norman Garstedt. This shows Penzance as you would see it most, in the pouring rain, with a storm coming in and the waves crashing over the promenade. One of my favourite examples is a painting by Elizabeth Forbes, who was the wife of Stanhope Forbes who is perhaps the best known name of the Newlyn School. Elizabeth Forbes was a well known artist in her own right when she married Stanhope. This painting shows her before she came to Newlyn. It’s called the Zanfort Fisher Girl and was done in Holland, and shows the truthfulness of continental painting but carried over into the Newlyn school.

Painting of Elizabeth Forbes

The one obvious link between the modernist paintings of Terry Frost and the realism of the Newlyn school is Cornwall. Both movements were moved by the light and the constantly changing nature. All that divides them is time.

If you would like to know more about the history of art from Renaissance to the present day then have a look at course A216 Art and its Histories

If you would like to find out more about history of Art and Design, here are a few suggestions.

Books you can read

"Stanhope Forbes", Caroline Fox, David and Charles, ISBN 0715306936

"Terry Frost", Flowers East, ISBN 1873362927

"Tate Gallery St.Ives: the building", David Shalev, Tate Gallery publishing, ISBN 1854371614

"Ben Nicholson", Norbet Lynton, Phaidon Press, ISBN 0714837504

For more information on Penlee House

For more information on the Tate Gallery

For more information on Terry Frost

For more information on Ben Nicholson

For more information on the Newlyn School.

Also on this site : You can join Diarmuid Gavin as he goes back to nature to find out how the gardens of two great artists inspired their work and Matthew Collings as he debunks the myth of the genius artist.

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what The Open University has to offer.





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