Cornish Art Lectures



I lecture extensively on Cornish art and hold day-long seminars on a range of aspects of Cornish art.  I am included in the Directory of Lecturers approved by The Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) and lecture regularly to Arts Society groups and to other organisations, particularly Friends groups of Public Art Galleries.  I have led or taken part in a number of Symposiums organised by Tate St Ives and Penlee House Gallery, Penzance.


The following are a selection of the lectures that I am currently offering, but there are many other Cornish art subjects that I have lectured on in the past, particularly relating to the artists of Newlyn and Lamorna.  Do make contact if there is a particular subject that your group would like a talk on.


I am now able to offer all these lectures online via Zoom.




To place the 2024 exhibition at St Ives Museum, Capturing the Light : St Ives Artists 1885-1914, in a wider context, I am giving two related lectures


Porthmeor Studios, Saturday 18th May at 6 p.m.


The National Significance of the St Ives Art Colony pre-1914


St Ives Arts Club, Thursday 19th September at 1 p.m. (part of September Festival)


The International Influence of the St Ives Art Colony pre-1914


For tickets re the latter see link below





Cornwall’s Forgotten Art Centre - A History of Art in Polperro


Despite its superb location, beautiful harbour and quaint buildings having made it one of the most painted spots in Britain, Polperro is the forgotten art centre of Cornwall, and the story of Art in Polperro has not been told before. This lecture draws on David’s new research into the subject, which will be published in two books to accompany an exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery in the spring of 2021. It examines why Plymouth based artists were the first to paint in the village and why the coming of the railway had little impact. It also looks at why Polperro never really developed into a colony. Despite this, the picturesqueness of the village has ensured that countless artists from around the world have painted its charms. In addition to featuring the handful of artists who did settle there, and the numerous British artist visitors, the talk will also showcase a range of American, German, Dutch and French artist visitors, as well as the first Chinese modernist painter, Teng-Hiok Chiu. There will also be a special feature on "the Polperro Polemicists", led by Arthur Wragg, whose biting satirical works during the 1930s were felt to have led to an increased awareness of the need for a more caring form of Government and, ultimately, to the introduction of the Welfare State. The talk will be illustrated with a wide range of paintings in varying styles.




Cornish Artists and Authors at War (1914-1919)


It is extraordinary the range of experiences that Cornish artists and authors had during the conflict and the lecture will feature paintings, stories, letters and poems relating to men serving in the infantry, cavalry, machine gun corps, hospital corps at the Front, to men in the Submarine Service ("the Suicide Club"), to men who served in Russia in propaganda / espionage roles and witnessed the Russian Revolution, to foreign artists who enlisted when they had no requirement to do so, to foreign artists and writers who were hounded out of Cornwall by jingoism, to Belgian refugee artists, to artists who won commissions for war paintings from the Canadians and the British, and to pacifists who were reviled for their views.  Featured artists will include Laura and Harold Knight, Alfred Munnings, Borlase Smart, Ernest Procter, George Bradshaw, Herbert Butler, Frances Hodgkins, Emile Fabry etc and featured authors will include Hugh Walpole, Crosbie and Denis Garstin, Cecily Sidgwick, Arthur Quiller-Couch etc. See page Cornish Artists and Authors at War for more detail.




'The Happy Valley'? A Social History of the Lamorna Art Colony pre-1950


Laura Knight referred to Lamorna as ‘The Happy Valley’, a phrase that she borrowed from Cecily Sidgwick’s novel, In Other Days (1915), which showcased the bohemian lifestyle of the early settlers in Lamorna, such as Lamorna Birch, Alfred Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight and others, as they built their new homes, created their gardens, had tea parties on the rocks, barbeques in the woods, fancy dress ‘beanos’ at the Hotel and drinking sessions in the pub, in the company of attractive models who were happy to pose nude by coastal pools. But the suicide of Florence Munnings, lost comrades in the War, and Harold Knight’s pacificism changed the mood entirely. Later, ‘colour’, and a certain amount of scandal, was introduced into the community by Gluck and Marlow Moss, two women artists who dressed as men, Veronica Sibthorp, who did not let a wooden leg spoil her fun, and had love affairs with Dylan Thomas, the artist John Armstrong, and a Miss Freeth, and surrealist, Ithell Colquhoun, who seemed fixated with the sexual proclivities of her neighbours. Drawing on the archives of the Lamorna Society and his own research into Lamorna resident writers, David recreates a fascinating backdrop to a wealth of artistic creation.




Lamorna Colony Pioneers



This lecture concentrates on the artistic achievements of the Lamorna Art Colony. Whilst a colony is not deemed to have been formed until 1912, the lecture will look at the artists who painted in Lamorna in the 1890s and 1900s, particularly John ‘Lamorna’ Birch, who settled there in the early 1890s, John Noble Barlow and his students, who came over from St Ives, and Thomas Gotch, Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes and their students, and others, who came over from Newlyn. In 1912-3, a number of other artists settled in the valley and these included Alfred and Florence Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight, Benji and Bell Leader, Frank and Jessica Heath, Robert and Eleanor Hughes and Algernon Newton. For a time, before and during WW1, Lamorna became Cornwall’s leading art colony. New arrivals after the War included Stanley Gardiner, and artists with a very different approach, such as Gluck, Marlow Moss and John Armstrong.




Women Artists in Cornwall



Women artists have contributed significantly to the reputation of Cornwall as an art centre. Whilst the talent and success of artists such as Elizabeth Forbes, Laura Knight, Dod Procter and Dorothea Sharp are well-known, there were a range of foreign women artists, who produced highly acclaimed work during their time in Cornwall, such as the Austrian Marianne Stokes, the Finns Helene Schjerfbeck and Maria Wiik, the Swede, Emma Lowstadt Chadwick and the New Zealanders Frances Hodgkins, Edith Collier and Eleanor Hughes. Then, there were talented wives of male artists, such as Dorothy Robinson, Jessie Titcomb and Caroline Gotch, and a whole generation of female students who attended the Forbes School in Newlyn or the Olsson/Talmage School in St Ives. In this talk, David assesses the importance of the female contingents in each of the colonies of St Ives, Newlyn and Lamorna.




Following the publication of my biography of Crosbie Garstin in 2017, entitled The Witty Vagabond, I am offering three separate lectures on his life:


1.  "All the world is my field of glory" - The pre-War adventures of Crosbie Garstin


2.  Warhorses, ferrets, rats, moles and other Mud Larks - Crosbie Garstin's War


3. The literary works of Crosbie Garstin


However, I can combine the three subjects into a single one-hour lecture


Crosbie Garstin, the eldest child of the Newlyn School artist, Norman Garstin, led an extraordinarily adventurous life. Whilst his father called him "practically immune to education", his headmaster said that he was the only genius his school had ever had and that he had "too rare a mind for any school curriculum". Having failed all his exams, his parents tried to force him into various careers, and, as he demonstrated considerable talent when drawing, he also had several sessions at the Forbes Art School in Newlyn. However, Crosbie really wanted to go adventuring in exotic lands in the hope of making a fortune. Between 1910 and 1912, he worked in America and Canada as a horse-wrangler, a broncho-buster, a harvester, a lumber jack, a navvy in mining camps on the Pacific coast and a gold mine speculator. Then, when those exertions did not bear fruit, he worked in South Africa as a bush ranger and as a cattle ranch manager. In addition to his letters home detailing his often hair-raising exploits, he used his myriad adventures, and the range of characters that he befriended, in his novels, poems and in numerous short stories. These often had a comic, self-deprecating slant. 


Having first made his name as a poet and then having gained a reputation during WW1, when he served in a colonial cavalry regiment, for his comic war stories for Punch, Crosbie’s literary career took off in a fascinatingly diverse range of directions during the 1920s. His adventure tales, many of which drew on his own vagabond youth, culminated in his Penhale trilogy, with its brilliant evocation of 18th century Cornwall - rated by many to be infinitely superior to the Poldark stories. His comic travelogues, which combined an irreverent take on history, personal anecdote, light verse and comic illustrations, were considered to be quite unique and received rave reviews around the globe. There were more poems, which were rated highly by Rudyard Kipling and Walter de la Mare, some superbly illustrated ‘Tally-Ho’ ballads, a farce, described by one critic as the funniest book he had ever read, and a romantic adventure, China Seas, which was later made into a Hollywood blockbuster, starring Clarke Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. Drawing upon, amongst other things, Crosbie’s correspondence with his literary agent, David records how Crosbie, prior to his untimely death in 1930, became a huge success not only in this country but also in America. Then, there are the contentions that he did not drown at Salcombe on Easter Sunday in 1930, but did a runner and produced further books under pseudonyms. A lively illustrated lecture about an extraordinary character, now unfairly neglected. 



The following lectures have proved particularly popular over the years



W.H.Y.Titcomb (1858-1930) - Artist of Many Parts


Will Titcomb is David’s great-grandfather and the reason why he first became interested in Cornish art. Whilst he is possibly unknown to you, as he never promoted himself, he exhibited over forty times at the Royal Academy, won numerous medals at international exhibitions and both his oils and his watercolours are extensively represented in public art galleries in Canada and in this country. Titcomb travelled extensively but the talk will concentrate on his time in Burma in 1880-1, where his father was first Bishop of Rangoon, his most successful years in St Ives from 1887-1905, where he was considered the leading figure painter, and a key artist of the Newlyn School, his paintings of Yorkshire steelworks from the 1890s, his time in Bristol (1909-1920), where his work is of great social and historical interest, and his final decade painting watercolours in France, Italy, Spain and Yugoslavia. At the 2003 retrospective of his work in Penzance, no-one could believe that all the paintings had been painted by the same artist, such was his versatility. He was truly an Artist of Many Parts and a fascinating life is enlivened further by family anecdotes.


‘Compass'd by the inviolate sea’ (Tennyson)


- Marine Painting in Cornwall from Turner to Alfred Wallis

Every year, thousands of tourists, including many NADFAS members, flock down to Cornwall to enjoy the majesty of the Cornish cliffs, be exhilarated by the spray from pounding Atlantic rollers and to witness the extraordinary effects of light on the richly-coloured sea.  This is the story of how such delights were first drawn to the attention not only of a national audience, but also an international one.  After Turner’s paintings and engravings from his visits in 1811 and 1813 became widely known, leading British marine painters, such as Clarkson Stanfield, Edward William Cooke, James Clarke Hook, Henry Moore and John Brett, painted in Cornwall, producing iconic images of places such as Land’s End, St Michael’s Mount, Kynance Cove, Gurnard’s Head and Tintagel, with its Arthurian legends.  Then, in the 1880s, artists started to settle in Newlyn, St Ives and Falmouth and to depict the lives of the fisherfolk.  By 1900, the school of marine painting in St Ives, run principally by Julius Olsson, was attracting artists from America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Indeed, three of America’s leading marine painters - William Trost Richards, Frederick Judd Waugh and Paul Dougherty - all made their names in their home country with Cornish seascapes, whilst Cornish marine paintings can be found in Art Galleries around the world.  After the First Woirld War, the marine tradition was continued in St Ives by ex-Olsson students, such as Borlase Smart and John Park, but it was the naive marine paintings on bits of rough cardboard by rag-and-bone man, Alfred Wallis, which were to inspire Ben Nicholson and, through him, a whole generation of British modernists.


The Greatest Exhibition of Cornish Art - Ever!

I have described the Special Exhibition held by the Cornish Artists at Nottingham Castle Museum in the autumn of 1894 as "the greatest exhibition of Cornish art that there ever has been and ever will be".  This is because it is not feasible nowadays, logistically, to reproduce anything quite like it, for it contained over 220 paintings, mostly large canvases, drawn from Chicago, Munich, Paris as well as from around Britain.  However, in 2015, I am helping Nottingham Castle and Penlee House, Penzance to recreate the show in part, so as to bring together some of the very best paintings produced in the art colonies of Newlyn, St Ives and Falmouth prior to 1894.  This talk looks both at the range of paintings included in the original 1894 show and the works selected for the 2015 exhibition.  It also reviews fascinating material contained in the archives of Nottingham Castle - the speeches made by various artists recording the influences upon the group, the requirements of the artists as to the hang, the banning of the term ‘Newlyn School’ in all pre-exhibition publicity material and the short-list of works drawn up by the Museum for purchase for the permanent collection.  In hindsight, the exhibition can be seen as the zenith of the early Newlyn colony and the moment when the St Ives landscape and marine artists came to the fore.  Artists featured include Stanhope Forbes, Frank Bramley, Henry Tuke, Walter Langley, Thomas Gotch, Adrian Stokes, John Arnesby Brown, Alfred East, William Titcomb and Julius Olsson.


The development of St Ives as an art centre prior to 1914

St Ives has always attracted artists because of its splendid position, quaint houses, busy harbour and special light, but it is also unique amongst British art colonies for the international element ever-present within the artistic community.  After analysing how the colony was formed by a group of artist friends of varying nationalities, who had worked together in Paris and Brittany, and how this group secured for the colony an early reputation in Paris, the talk discusses the initial connections between St Ives and the Newlyn School, culminating in the Cornish Artists’ exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum in 1894.  Whilst figure painters in St Ives found the activities of the fisherfolk a never-ending source of subjects, the town’s north-facing situation was a boon for marine and landscape painters, who could paint light effects on the waters of the Bay from dawn till dusk.  As a result, a number of Art Schools were established in the town and, in the period prior to the First World War, St Ives became recognised world-wide as a centre for both the practice and teaching of marine and landscape painting.  The works produced by this group of artists aimed to evoke a mood, drawing on the Victorians’ knowledge of Romantic poetry, and, whilst seemingly realistic, were intended to showcase the artist’s own individual vision/genius.  They became known as lyrical, poetical or idealistic land- and sea- scapes.  This is an era of British landscape and marine painting that has been totally neglected, so that its influence on leading American artists such as Elmer Schofield, Paul Dougherty and Frederick Waugh is unrecognised.


Sea Change - Art in St Ives 1914 - 1930

With the heyday of the rural art colony over, St Ives needed to find a new identity and, against a very testing political, economic and artistic backdrop, it eventually did so in 1927 with the formation of the St Ives Society of Artists, which offered membership to any artist who had ever worked in Cornwall at any juncture in their career.  Nevertheless, during this period of transition, St Ives still managed to attract a wide range of British and foreign artists and to inspire them to produce interesting, beautiful or innovative work.  Against the backdrop of Borlase Smart’s evocative war paintings (unknown despite 32 being owned by the Imperial War Museum), the talk looks at the monumental symbolist works of the Belgian refugee artist, Emile Fabry, the "experimental years" of the New Zealander, Frances Hodgkins, and the early pointillist work of Sir Claude Francis Barry.  The 1920s saw not only the heyday of traditional artists such as Charles Simpson, Moffat Lindner and John Park, but also a booming etching market, with Alfred Hartley becoming a leading influence.  Of the many noted visitors, the most famous are Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson, who, in 1928, discovered the naive paintings of Alfred Wallis, who had been a local rag-and-bone man.  The 1920s also saw the dawn of the craft tradition in St Ives with the establishment of the Leach Pottery.


Please note that the end date for this talk can be extended, at the expense of the decorative arts section, to include aspects from the Creating A Splash talk (see below)


(a) to 1940, so as to include the heyday of the representational artists within the St Ives Society of Artists, or


(b) to 1949, so as to include both (a) and a brief mention of the St Ives moderns, prior to the acrimonious split in in the St Ives Society of Artists in 1949.


It can also be adjusted to cater for particular interest in the Leach Pottery, Crysede textiles or the story of Alfred Wallis.

Creating A Splash - The St Ives Society of Artists (1927-1952)


This is the dramatic story whereby the Society transformed the St Ives art colony from being moribund in 1927 into a run-away success, with over seventy works a year by members being hung at the Royal Academy and regular nationwide touring shows attracting up to 75,000 visitors.  By the end of the 1930s, most artists of repute, who had at some juncture lived, worked or studied in Cornwall, had joined the Society and, during the period covered by the talk, it boasted fourteen Royal Academicians amongst its membership.  After the War, the Society welcomed artists with modern leanings, such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, but this in time led to a major and very acrimonious split in 1949.  Nevertheless, the Society continued to be successful until representational art went out of fashion.  The lecture features many of the exhibits from the nationwide touring exhibition, Creating A Splash, which attracted over 80,000 visitors during 2003-4.  Artists featured include the Royal Academicians Julius Olsson, Arnesby Brown, Terrick Williams, Adrian Stokes, Algernon Talmage, Stanhope Forbes, Laura Knight, Dod Procter, Stanley Spencer and Frank Brangwyn.

Masters and Pupils - Art Schools in St Ives (1895-1924)


This topic is the theme of an exhibition at Worcester Art Gallery in the spring of 2014.  St Ives’ status in the early 1900s as a centre for marine and landscape painting was largely due to the various Schools of Painting in the town that, most unusually for the period, concentrated almost exclusively on these genres, particularly that run between 1895 and 1912 by Julius Olsson RA, with the help from time to time of Louis Grier and Algernon Talmage RA. Championing open air painting and the importance of colour and tonal values, the School drew to St Ives students not only from other art schools around the country but also from around the world. Olsson himself did not study under another master, and his emphasis on the teaching of values can be traced back through fellow resident, Adrian Stokes RA, to the art colonies at Barbizon and Pont-Aven.  As a result, artists began to take the view that a spell painting en plein air in St Ives obviated the need to study in France - a complete change of attitude from that prevalent in the 1880s.  Students of the Olsson School include American, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian artists, who became leading figures in their own countries, as well as highly regarded British artists such as Norman Wilkinson, Mary McCrossan, Borlase Smart and John Park. The talk also looks at the painting school run by the New Zealander, Frances Hodgkins, during the War years, which attracted many pioneering female artists from Australia and New Zealand, and that run by Charles and Ruth Simpson in the early 1920s.




My Social History of the St Ives art colony is, to my knowledge, the only social history of any of the myriad art colonies that grew up in Europe and America in the late nineteenth century.  Accordingly, the manner in which the lifestyles of artists in such art colonies developed, and the stresses and strains of their relationships with various strata of the local community is a much neglected topic, but one of considerable interest. 


Lecture 7 is an overview of the principal themes contained in the Social History, whilst Lecture 8 examines, in particular, the relationship of the artists with the fisherfolk and their depictions of the various fishing seasons, and Lecture 9 looks at the fascinating history of artists’ studios in the town, where artists were aided by enterprising local entrepreneurs.


St Ives (1860-1930) - The Artists and the Community - A Social History

This talk presents a unique social history of an art colony.  It examines the way of life of the artists, their homes, their studios, their inter-relationship with all strata of St Ives society and the impact that they had on the town and the townsfolk culturally, commercially and physically.  It examines the very different backgrounds of the artists, and how they, and their literary and musical friends, adapted to life in a remote town, dominated by strict Methodists, to such good effect that one London correspondent was moved to comment in 1896 that "no more genial, kindly and hospitable society exists in the whole of England", whilst a local Mayor said "A locality can have no better friend than an art colony".  However, this did not prevent the artists from occasionally being thrown into the harbour, beaten up or labelled ‘paint-wasters’!  The talk also highlights the contributions made by local entrepreneurs to the enduring success of the colony.


St Ives - The artists, the fisherfolk and the fishing industry


There is a peculiar fascination about how middle-class, monied ‘bohemian’ artists, who were used to the refinements and distractions of the metropolis, managed to get on with their fisherfolk models, who lacked savings and education, but had a powerful faith and an aversion to alcohol.  Unsurprisingly, in the colony’s infancy, there were "occasional loggerheads; surface misunderstandings between two impetuous races, whose idiosyncrasies neither understood".  Nevertheless, whilst, before too long, the long-term settlers ensured that they and the locals "mutually respected and comprehended each other, and the hatchet of ignorant animosity was buried", there were always new artist arrivals, who did not know or respect the ‘rules’, whilst new Methodist ministers, sent to inspire ‘red-hot revivals’, stirred up their most fervent followers.  The result, in 1897, was that artists were injured in a riot that hit national headlines.  Nevertheless, close friendships were forged, with artists helping out their models financially in difficult times, whilst fishermen named their children after artists.  The talk also looks at the artists’ depictions of the three principal fishing seasons in St Ives - those for pilchards, mackerel and herring.  In the case of the seine pilchard fishery, which was viewable from the shore, the artists have captured most stages in this extraordinary spectacle that was so important for the finances of the town, but which was no longer seen after 1910.  These paintings and illustrations are of great historical importance.


A History of Artists’ Studios in St Ives

The Porthmeor Studios complex on Porthmeor Beach, St Ives is the oldest block of studios in Britain and the only survivor of several extraordinary blocks of studios that once fronted the beach.  As such, it has received a multi-million pound grant for its restoration - painstaking work which has recently been completed to widespread acclaim.  However, at one time, there were over two hundred studios in St Ives, the size and splendid locations of which were renowned internationally.  This talk looks at the wide range of buildings that were commandeered for use as studios, including music pavilions, pilchard cellars, net lofts and mine engine houses, and the impact that the artists’ constant demand for studio space had on the way the town developed.  It also looks at the entrepreneurial spirit of several locals, who were prepared to speculate by erecting purpose-built blocks of studios to cater for the art craze that had enveloped the town.  Such ventures are typical examples of the input made by the local community to the success of the colony.  The talk is illustrated by many vintage photographs of iconic studio spaces. The special relationship between an artist and his studio is summed up by the first lines of a poem written by a St Ives artist, on learning of the possibility of being evicted from his studio; What have I done that I should lose, The eerie where I woo the muse,The place of all, which I should choose, My studio?   


However, once a year, the mystique of the studios evaporated, as they were thrown open to the public on Show Days - an opportunity that the fisherfolk did not miss.   




In May 2014, I gave a series of lectures to New Zealand Design and Fine Art Societies, highlighting in particular the New Zealand artists that were inspired by St Ives including Frances Hodgkins, Edith Collier, Herbert Babbage, Margaret Stoddart, Herbert Fitzherbert and others.  The most requested lecture is the following:-


Frances Hodgkins in Wartime St Ives


This lecture seeks to evoke the spirit of the artistic community in St Ives during the First World War, so that Hodgkins’ almost unique single-minded application of herself to her art can be seen in context.  Hodgkins called her time in St Ives "her experimental years", and it has always been suggested that she was too modern for her fellow colonists.  However, a number of these were also producing innovative work, and she did acquire a group of strong supporters.  Nevertheless, it was not an easy period, as she battled poverty, illness and cold, against the backdrop of one of the worst human conflicts of all time, which claimed dearly-loved friends and relatives, but I will try to offset the bleak image often portrayed in her letters, with tales of close friendships.  Firstly, that with Moffat Lindner - ‘dear old Moffaty’ - as she called him - the artist, who had befriended her years before in Dordrecht and who went out of his way, repeatedly, to advance her career, pay her bills, give her commissions and generally see her right.  Then, with Edgar and Edith Skinner, who feature in her painting, The Edwardians and were corner-stones of St Ives society at this time - Edgar, a retired bank manager, with wide cultural interests and an enthusiasm for her art; Edith, a poetess, who wrote some verses in her honour, praising her wit and bonhomie.  Naturally, I will also look at her St Ives paintings and discuss the impact upon them of market forces and of Lindner’s encouragement that she should paint in oils and in bigger formats.  I will also look at her desperate attempts to run a painting class, when outdoor sketching was banned, and why artists eventually came down to study at St Ives not because of its scenery, but because of her.  I will also discuss her classes in Newlyn and her impact on Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett Haines and, possibly, Alec Walker (of Crysede textiles).  I will also look at her accommodation and the history of the studios that she worked from.