Cornish Art Lectures



I lecture extensively on Cornish art and hold day-long seminars on the art colony at St Ives.  I am included in the Directory of Lecturers approved by The National Association of Design and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) and lecture regularly to NADFAS 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.



Following the publication of my biography of Crosbie Garstin, entitled The Witty Vagabond, I am offering four 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


4.  The poetry of Crosbie Garstin


Please contact me for further details.






Artists’ and Writers’ Homes and Gardens in the early years of the Lamorna Art Colony


In the years 1912-4, a number of artists, such as Harold and Laura Knight, Alfred and Florence Munnings, Frank and Jessica Heath, Benjamin and Bell Leader and Charles and Ella Naper, decided to set up home, alongside John Lamorna Birch, in the Lamorna Valley.  Several of these artists built new homes on agricultural land, and so needed to apply themselves to both house and garden design.   Drawing on archival material collected by the Lamorna Society and the writings of Lamorna residents, Cecily Sidgwick and Charles Marriott, this lecture looks at the homes, studios, gardens and lifestyle of this charismatic group of artists, a number of whom featured prominently in the book/film, Summer in February.


 1. ‘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.


2. 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.


3. 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.


4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.


7. 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.


8. 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.


9. 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:-


10. 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.