Artist adds a new twist to iconic Newlyn School of Painters painting
A defining image of the much-loved Newlyn School of Painters has been given a fresh twist for an exhibition celebrating the artistic traditions of the West Cornwall port.
Fish Sale On A Cornish Beach was painted by Stanhope Forbes in 1885. Featuring members of the fishing community selling their catch, as boats work offshore, the huge canvas has come to symbolise the outdoor style and focus on working people beloved of the Victorian art colony.
Now another Newlyn-based artist, Stuart Ross, has given Forbes' original an update. In Boot Sale In A Cornish Car Park, Ross has replaced a boat – on which the girl in Forbes' work is leaning – for a car. A fisherman with a string of catch becomes a dog-walker, while a seated "jowster" is transformed into a biker on crutches. The familiar far horizon, dotted with brown-barked sailing luggers, has been substituted for a Tesco supermarket, while a large flat ray becomes a pair of trousers for sale.
Stuart Ross explained that Forbes' picture was on show when he and other artists met to talk about a project to create new work inspired by Newlyn School painters.
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"I came away with the picture firmly fixed in my mind and a feeling that the image of the woman leaning on the boat reminded me of something," he said. "Walking back, I realised that she could be leaning on her car at a boot sale, with the same air of melancholy patience as in the beach scene and the fish at her feet becoming clothes laid out on the tarmac. The idea for the drawing just started from there."
Ross's drawing takes pride of place alongside Forbes' canvas and other early Newlyn masterpieces in an exhibition that opened at the weekend in Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Unlike previous shows, New Light On Newlyn sees old and new hanging side by side. Fine art curator Emma Philip, who organised the project with colleague Judith Robinson, said the intention was to explore historic and contemporary art inspired by the fishing port.
"We are known for our Newlyn works but previous exhibitions have only showcased the paintings produced by the art colony in the late 1800s and early 1900s," said Emma. "For this show, 15 members of Newlyn Society of Artists (NSA) went on a tour of our stores and have created work in response to the early painters. The result is a really interesting mix."
Among the historic works are Harold Harvey's Newlyn Harbour, Walter Langley's When One Is Old, Richard Harry Carter's Suspense and the stunning Place Of Wailing by George Sherwood Hunter. As well as paintings, the NSA input includes installations, sculpture, works on paper, digital media and performance.
"We thought it would be interesting to combine old and new to create parallels between the historic works in our collection, which are wonderful, and artists working in Newlyn today, who are using the same landscape and light," said Emma. "We showed them the historic works in our collection and they responded to them in different ways."
Forbes' fish sale painting was, for many years, a familiar sight to Plymothians because of its prominent position at the top of the city museum's main staircase.
"A lot of people locally will be aware that this and other Newlyn paintings are in our collection but many will not have had an opportunity to see them on show before," said Emma. "What we hope to achieve is for the audience for contemporary work and the audience for historic work to dip a toe into each other's water. The clue is in the title really – New Light On Newlyn is about seeing the world in a new light."
New Light On Newlyn is at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery until January 12, 2013. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.plymouthmuseum.gov.uk