Visionary artist influenced every aspect of his town
Although Borlase Smart is remembered in St Ives, he really ought to be revered, writes Frank Ruhrmund.
As St Ives-based author Marion Whybrow reminds us in her latest book, Borlase Smart: St Ives Artist – Man Of Vision, Captain Robert Borlase Smart did so much for the town. Penwith Society of Arts was founded in his name, Borlase Smart Trust is the prime mover in the renovation and refurbishment of Porthmeor Studios and there is a seat that carries his name in Norway Square.
One of the old school of artists who, if photographs of the period are to be believed, went to his work place dressed in collar and tie looking more like a bank manager than a smock-wearing, paint-stained artist, he moved to St Ives in 1913 to study seascape painting under the expert eye of Julius Olsson.
Then in his early-30s, he was for a decade prior to that move art critic of the Western Morning News and only the year previously had the pleasure of seeing his Moonlight On The Cornish Riviera hung in the Royal Academy Summer Show.
An artist whose visionary qualities went beyond his studio and the sea, as early as 1919 he backed doomed proposals for a St Ives art gallery as a memorial to those who had lost their lives during the First World War. A quarter of a century later he experienced similar disappointment when he urged the town to buy Treloyhan Manor as a permanent home for "the accumulated work of St Ives artists". However, he did have better luck with the Mariner's Church, when as secretary of St Ives Society of Artists, he was able to negotiate the transfer of the building from the church authorities to the society.
A man of considerable courage as well as vision, shortly before he died he was instrumental in giving space to the Crypt Group in the Mariner's Church. It could not have been easy steering a passage through the troubled waters between the traditionalists and the modernists but, as Marion Whybrow says: "The indomitable peace maker and go-between, Borlase Smart opened their first show, much to the disapproval and anger of many of the members."
She adds: "There are those in a community who make a difference to the lives of its inhabitants and who create a respect for what they achieve for themselves and for their town, and leave a lasting memory in the minds of folk; such a town is St Ives and such a person was the artist Borlase Smart."
Borlase Smart: St Ives Artist – Man Of Vision is published by Halstar at £29.99.