St Ives - The Dawn of the Colony




This book, then 120 pages, was written initially to accompany the 2008 exhibition, Dawn of a Colony : Picturing the West (St Ives 1811-1888) at Tate St Ives, of which the author was Assistant Curator.  However, a revised and much expanded version (208 pages) was produced in 2023 to accompany the St Ives Museum exhibition Discovering St Ives - Early Visiting Artists.


After reviewing early depictions of the town from 1745 and a wide variety of early 19th century engravings, the book discusses the work of mid-century visitors like Edward William Cooke, James Clarke Hook, George Wolfe, Charles Napier Hemy, John Brett and William Trost Richards (USA), before looking at the years leading up to the formation of the colony in the winter of 1885 and concluding that this had nothing to do with the 1884 visit of James McNeill Whistler but resulted from friendships formed in the Breton art colonies.  In particular, David investigates the claim by the early American colonist, Howard Butler, that the French artist, Émile-Louis Vernier, was "the person who really discovered St Ives", and demonstrates that Vernier drew the town’s attractions to the attention of a group of artists of various nationalities, who had been working together in the Breton art colonies of Concarneau and Pont-Aven.  The St Ives colony, therefore, was effectively established from Brittany, with foreign artists outnumbering English ones in the early years, leading to a focus on the exhibitions at the Paris Salon, rather than the Royal Academy.


Artists involved in the early years of the colony include the Americans Edward and Vesta Simmons, Frank Chadwick, Howard Butler, Charles Reinhart and Rosalie Gill, the Finns Helene Schjerfbeck and Maria Wiik, the Swedes Anders Zorn and Emma Lowstadt, the Norwegian Bernt Gronvold and the German Franz Muller-Gossen, as well as Adrian Stokes and his Austrian wife, Marianne Preindlsberger, Stanhope Forbes and his Canadian fiancée, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Henry Harewood Robinson and his Irish wife, Dorothy Webb.


With Anders Zorn’s Fisherman, St Ives being bought by the French Government in 1888 and with a number of other artists winning awards in Paris for their St Ives paintings in the years 1887-1890, the colony made an instant impact in Paris, leading to further groups of artists coming to visit, and so, from the outset, the colony was an international community with a cosmopolitan outlook. In addition, Adrian Stokes secured the colony’s first major success at the Royal Academy in 1888, when his Barbizon-influenced landscape, Upland and Sky, was bought by the Chantrey Trustees.


The author also highlights the early fraternisation between the colonies at St Ives and Newlyn and looks at the initial impact of the artists’ arrival on the town.


The result of extensive new research, this book is not only the first account of the pre-colony period, but also re-writes the history of the establishment of the St Ives colony.