Art in Polperro
I find it strange that no-one seems to have written anything on Art in Polperro, let alone conducted a detailed survey, and so, during 2018, I intend to remedy that deficiency. Despite my research being in its infancy, below are a few things that I have already uncovered that might be of interest. Please do contact me if you have information of interest and relevance. Falmouth Art Gallery have provisionally agreed to hold an exhibition on the subject in the spring of 2021 and so my research will be published to coincide with that.
It seems that Harry John Williams may be one of the first non-local artists to have been resident in Polperro. From 1882-7, he is recorded in exhibition reviews as "of Polperro". Plymouth based artists were some of the first to sketch in Polperro - it seems it was too out of the way for upcountry artists to include it on their Cornish itineraries.
Thomas and Caroline Gotch were based in Polperro from July to November 1884, during which time Thomas produced three major works, the largest of which was News from the Beach. He later repainted this in watercolour with the title Danger.
A painting of Polperro signed by Caroline with her maiden name 'Yates' suggests that she had visited Polperro before her marriage in 1881 - probably in 1879 or 1880, two years when she is known to have visited Newlyn.
William Borrow's 1885 painting of Polperro was one of the first to be hung at the Royal Academy. A local critic rated it higher than Stanhope Forbes' A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach!
Mouat Loudan's Fish Sale, Polperro caused a stir at the Royal Academy in 1888 and, as it was illustrated in the Illustrated London News, it will have had a significant impact on the popularity of Polperro as an artist destination. I have for many years wondered where the original might be and, to my shock and horror, I have just discovered it in a filthy, ripped state, mis-catalogued as by an unknown artist called 'Ludan' at, of all places, the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. Please get in contact if you would like to help getting it restored.
In 1888, the young Frank Short, who went on to become one of the most highly regarded figures in British printmaking, produced a series of etchings of Polperro, which are in the collections of Art Galleries around the world.
The American artist, Edward Ertz, who met his wife, Ethel Horsfall, in Polperro in 1900 and who ran a painting school there until 1904, recorded that the famous French artist, Auguste Delécluse, brought over to Polperro in 1894 a large party of students from his Paris atelier, staying three months and taking every spare room in the village. Delécluse, who was enchanted by the place, exhibited a painting of Polperro at the 1895 Paris Salon.
Herbert Butler first visited Polperro in 1884 and went on to marry Sophia Pond, one of the daughters of the family with whom he stayed. They settled in Polperro in 1900 and he was one of the few long-term residents, dying in 1931. After initially producing some large oil paintings, he found his true calling as a water-colourist and was particularly fond of moonlit scenes. He was also a great advocate of drawing in lead pencil and produced a fascinating article on the subject for The Art Journal in 1910, when he had a London exhibition of his pencil drawings of Polperro.
There are more paintings of Polperro in public collections by the Scot, John Robertson Reid, than by any other artist, and the vast majority of his exhibits from 1900 to his death in 1926 are Polperro subjects. These tended to feature the fisherfolk and their children at work or play on the rocks around the harbour, with broadly painted colourful seas.
Frank Gascoigne Heath and his wife Jessica lived in Polperro from 1910 to 1912, during which time Frank produced a succession of paintings of Polperro. Works such as Children on the Rocks (Cartwright Hall, Bradford) reveal the clear influence of his earlier association with Laura Knight at Newlyn.
During the years 1904-1914, the American artist, Henry Bayley Snell, regularly brought parties of students to Polperro and his own paintings of Polperro won prizes at American exhibitions. Accordingly, Polperro was visited by a large number of American artists.
The famous German artist, Claus Bergen, made his initial reputation with a series of paintings of Polperro resulting from regular visits to the village from 1907-1913. Cornelius Wagner was another German visitor.
Elmer Schofield was an American artist, who had a significant impact on the popularity of Cornwall as a destination for American artists, as he spent part of most years from 1903-1944 in Cornwall. He painted in Polperro in the years 1912-4 and this work shows the bottom of Peak Rock from the western side of the harbour entrance.
George Macrum was an American artist and this work was hung at the National Academy, New York in 1914. The green wall appears in other paintings as well.
Teng-Hiok Chiu is now lauded as China's first Modernist Painter, but, during the 1930s, he first came to prominence in this country with a series of paintings of Polperro, which were included in two solos shows at the Fine Art Society in 1930 and 1936. He also had paintings of Polperro hung at the RA, RBA and other shows around the country.
Do get in contact if you have a painting of Polperro by Chiu as they are proving difficult to find.
Wolverhampton Art Gallery own a series of paintings of Polperro by W H Dudley, originally bequeathed by his widow to his home town gallery at Bilston. Dudley returned to Polperro a number of times in the late 1930s and several of these works are Royal Academy exhibits of considerable quality and interest.