Sunday, October 9, 2011

Newlyn School of Art and Mount's Bay... In Glorious Grey!

Summer morning over Mount's Bay from Penzance.
After an abnormally bright, but very pleasant Indian summer the weather has taken a turn towards more seasonal, autumnal temperatures and atmospheres - wet and grey being the predominant characteristics. Just as the skies are becoming heavy and the days are drawing in the work load is building up too so that the feeling of lightness and freedom is certainly fading away. However, looking at the photos from my trip back to Cornwall I'm trying to persuade myself that muted tones and a muted lifestyle can be enriching too - grey can be glorious too...
Newlyn Harbour
The distractions of vibrancy can perhaps sometimes draw you away from the essential, leading you to overlook the subtler aspects of the whole, hence the depth of black and white photos. Well, that was the theory anyway, as I look out onto non-stop rain showers on a Sunday afternoon!

Fishing nets; Newlyn.
Wandering around Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole and Marazion early in the morning has to be my favourite holiday activity, whatever the weather, whatever the season. The region certainly offers some very bracing conditions, but in terms of photographs, I actually prefer those taken when the skies are laden with rain, clouds and heavy mist.

During more clement days the particular brightness that bathes and intensifies everything in its path can give rise to breathtaking effects.
Misty, mystical view of St Michael's Mount by my brother (thanks Joe!)
While 'Fish, Tin and Copper' were the basis of the industries that brought prosperity to South West Cornwall and the words proclaimed during toasts at the end of the 18th century, it was to be the atmospheric conditions and luminosity that was to lead to the region's artistic renown at the end of the 19th century.
Cliff tops near Land's End.
The Penwith Peninsula with its dramatic scenery of rugged moorland, granite cliffs overhanging spectacular beaches and seascapes presented natural views that many British artists were otherwise obliged to seek abroad. Indeed many of the artists who were to settle in the Newlyn area in increasing numbers had studied in France and Holland.

Just as Parisian artists had left the grime and grisaille of Paris in order to paint in the pure air and luminosity of Barbizon these British post-Impressionist painters 'en plein air' found that this region of Cornwall offered similar subject matter yet required considerably less travel, especially since the Great Western railway had linked Penzance to London in the latter part of the 19th century. The artist Stanhope Forbes  was to remark that "Newlyn is a sort of English Concarneau" and the initial artist group was to reach a high point in the years before the First World War.
Never  A Morning Wore to Evening. Walter Langley 1894
However, it was not merely the landscape that attracted the artists who made up the colony later called the Newlyn School. The artists all shared a desire to study and portray the lives of these fishing and farming communities which had changed little in spite of  the Industrial Revolution. Far from depicting glorified scenes of rural and sea-faring bliss the artists preferred to show the local colour in its true tones and moods. Indeed, these artists were 'tonists' rather than 'colourists' and their vision of life was realist rather than picturesque. While this may have led to works that focus on the dark hardships of such a life, other images were of a lighter note, in both in subject and palette.
A Fish Sale. Stanhope Forbes 1884
Walter Langley was one of the first visiting artists to finally settle in Newlyn and was later known as the 'Pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony'. His artistic life was dominated by the themes of his childhood, from a family of eleven children living in the inner-city slums of Birmingham. Although illiterate, Langley's mother recognized the talent of her son and did her utmost to ensure that he could afford the studies at Birmingham School of Design. Having studied at the South Kensington Schools of Art he then returned to Birmingham to work as a lithographer, but turned to a career in painting in the hope of gaining commercial success. In an endeavour to obtain new painting opportunities Langley went briefly to Newlyn in1880. He was one of a small group to become Associate of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and returned to the Cornish Peninsula in 1881 with a major commission from the Birmingham patron Edwin Chamberlain, and received other significant commissions thereafter.
Study for A Fish Sale. Stanhope Forbes 1884

Langley never forgot his humble beginnings, indeed far from it. He said of his work that it "reflects the
concern for the persistent hardship faced by the poor" and not surprisingly his political leanings were markedly Left wing. He felt empathy and sympathy for the communities around him and had a particular sensitivity for the womenfolk who, like his own mother, suffered so much hardship. Dramatic works such as 'Never a Morning wore to Evening but some Heart did Break'
show the tragedy often visited on such communities....
By 1883 there were several more artists in the Newlyn colony but it was with the arrival of Stanhope Forbes 'Father of the Newlyn School' in 1884 that the group truly took form and gained recognition. Exhibited at the Royal Academy, Forbes' first Newlyn painting met significant success and this incited other artists to settle in Cornwall.
For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Frank Bramley 1891
Frank Bramley arrived at the same period as Forbes and his work likewise received great acclaim.
Other artists established themselves but chose to settle in St Ives, Lelant, Falmouth rather than in Newlyn itself. Little by little the early artistic colony declined somewhat and in 1899 Stanhope Forbes and his wife, Elizabeth, founded an art establishment, the Newlyn School of Painting. It was around this time that Norman Garstin produced his famous work 'The Rain it Raineth'.
The Rain in Raineth. Norman Garstin 1889.

The school of painting drew in another generation of artists to Newlyn, Dod and Ernest Procter being among them, but also Laura  and Harold Knight and Frank Gascoigne Heath. Thus the Newlyn artistic community adapted itself to a new century and new artistic endeavours, whilst retaining an essential luminosity and mood.
 Here's some music by Brenda Wootton, a Cornish folksinger who had a certain success here in France...
 And here's another for anyone here in France with Breton links....