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Western Morning News

Capital outing for the Cornish workers immortalised in paint


The arrival in Newlyn of well-heeled "foreigners" armed with paint-boxes and easels during the 1880s must have been an unnerving experience for local people. Their fey ways, affluent lifestyles and insistence on capturing on canvas the everyday lives of villagers were about as alien to the residents of Street-an-Nowan or Tolcarne as a pilchard jumping out of its net and singing the National Anthem.

What's more, these artists were even prepared to pay people to do nothing: sitting was suddenly considered "work" and idling in rough clothes all day could earn young and old as much as a "proper" job.

The early members of what has become known as the Newlyn School of painters – who included Albert Chevallier Tayler, Samuel John Lamorna Birch, Henry Scott Tuke, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Norman Garstin and Stanhope Forbes – became a curiosity and a meal ticket for many years. Their large-scale canvases of fishermen, jowsters and farmhands soon found favour in London institutes like the Royal Academy. But as the years passed interest waned and by the 1960s, few had any interest – or even knowledge – of these pioneers of British Impressionism. It was possible to pick up their work for just a few pounds. More commonly, canvases were stripped from frames and discarded or allowed to decay. It took a major reappraisal of Newlyn artists by the Tate Gallery in the mid-1970s to rekindle interest in the movement. And since then their reputation has continued to grow. This month another London gallery will stage a major exhibition of Newlyn paintings, many being hung together for the first time and at least one going on public show for the first time.

Amongst Heroes: The Artist In Working Cornwall opens in the opulent surroundings of Two Temple Place on January 26 as part of a series of annual showcase collections from outside the capital.

Organised in partnership with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, it will feature work loaned by public and private collections, including Penlee Gallery and Museum in Penzance, Falmouth's National Maritime Museum and the Newlyn School Gallery in Penzance.

Royal Cornwall Museum director Hilary Bracegirdle, who has been working closely with curators at Two Temple Place, said: "This is a real coup for Cornwall, it is a really big deal. More than 50,000 people saw last year's exhibition about William Morris and the likelihood is that this will be even more popular, particularly as Time Out has already named it as one the highlights of 2013. It takes a fascinating and unusual angle by combining social and geographic history with art history – portraying the Cornish person as heroic."

Mrs Bracegirdle described the setting for the show as "extraordinary". Built in 1895 by John Loughborough Pearson – who also designed Truro Cathedral – Two Temple Place was the home of William Waldorf Astor. Astor had a penchant for luxury fixtures, stone carvings, parapets and ornate metalwork – all of which survive.

The Newlyn paintings will be displayed alongside historical artifacts seen in the paintings, including a traditional oyster dredger, net-making tools and a mining handcart from St Just. "This is the most significant grouping of Cornish artworks to be displayed outside of the region in recent decades," said curator Roo Gunzi. "Amongst Heroes re-approaches the work of pioneering Newlyn artists who are widely regarded to be a British response to Impressionism. Focusing on representations of people at work between 1880 and 1920, it highlights the remarkable art produced in Cornwall at this time, celebrating a way of life now long gone."

Amongst Heroes: The Artist In Working Cornwall opens at Two Temple Place, close to London's Victoria Embankment, on January 26 and continues until April 14. And the good news for art lovers in the South West is that the bulk of the collection will transfer to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro in early 2014.

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