Rare collection sheds new light on St Ives before it became an art colony
An exhibition of paintings that challenges the widely-held notion that artistic endeavours in St Ives only began with the arrival of the Modernists has just opened in Truro.
A Century Of St Ives Art at the Royal Cornwall Museum covers a 100-year period that ended before the likes of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth had even "discovered" the fishing port's potential.
Many of the names included in the exhibition will be unfamiliar to most people, yet their work acts as a pictorial history of the town and its people from 1840 to 1940.
Curated by leading St Ives art expert and collector David Tovey, who has written eight books on the subject, the exhibition includes a number of rarely seen early paintings that give a glimpse of the mining, fishing and shipbuilding industries that brought the town prosperity in the first half of the 19th century. One canvas of particular interest shows the harbour beach at St Ives swarming with people busy unloading pilchards from seine boats after a huge catch.
Those featured include Royal Academician, Edward William Cooke, who visited the town in 1848 and fellow RA James Clarke Hook, who was one of the first to take advantage of the newly-completed rail link in 1860. Others include Adrian Stokes, Julius Olsson, Dorothea Sharp, Charles Simpson, John Park, Arthur Hayward and Borlase Smart.
John Mogford's Summer Moonrise, St Ives shows an old mine engine house on Pednolva Point, while perhaps the stand-out work is Fish Sale, St Ives painted by Alberto Ludovici Jnr in 1883 – a year before Stanhope Forbes' better known depiction of a similar scene at Newlyn.
Artists began arriving in St Ives in 1885, some making the town their permanent home and providing a boost to the local economy. As well as British painters, Americans Frederick Judd Waugh and Elmer Schofield, Australians Richard Hayley Lever, Charles Bryant and Sir William Ashton, Canadian Harry Britton and Frenchman Henri Valensi also enjoyed artistic success and were drawn to St Ives because of its worldwide reputation as a centre for the practice and teaching of landscape and marine painting.
David Tovey's interest in St Ives art was inspired by his great grandfather, William Titcomb, who was one of the early settlers. The exhibition includes Titcomb's Gull Nesting, which shows boys plundering eggs on cliffs at Hor Point, near the town.
"This exhibition, which combines works from my own collection and that of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, provides not only an interesting overview of what I consider to be the heyday of representational art in Britain's premier art colony, but also highlights some of its less known and neglected aspects during a period of great change," said Mr Tovey.
A Century Of St Ives Art open at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro this week and will continue throughout 2013. Entry to the museum is £5 per adult for a one-year pass and is free to anyone aged 18 and under.