Art in St Ives



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St Ives is synonymous with art. Since the end of the nineteenth century, there has been a thriving art community in St Ives. Artists have found the quality of light and the mild climate in St Ives to be extremely conducive for painting. St Ives is now the location of a branch of the nationally renowned Tate Gallery.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, few artists painted in St Ives. Turner, as is well-known, did a quick pencil sketch in 1811, and it was clearly Turner’s depictions of the south-west, which were engraved and marketed by the Cooke brothers, that led the marine painter, Edward Cooke, son of the engraver, George Cooke, to make a tour of the south-west himself in 1848. He stayed a week in St Ives in mid-October that year - the longest time that he spent in any one place.

The completion of the rail link to Penzance in 1859 had a major impact on the number of artists visiting Cornwall and the newly elected Royal Academician, James Clarke Hook, spent nearly three months in St Ives in 1860, showing three St Ives subjects at the Royal Academy in 1861.  Other artists, such as George Wolfe and Thomas and Edith Hume, visited with some regularity during the 1860s and 1870s, and the well-known marine painter, John Brett, spent a month in the town in September 1872.

An engraving of a drawing by Edward Cooke dated 11th October 1848 of Carrick Gladden Cove - later re-named Carbis Bay

An engraving of a drawing by Edward Cooke dated 11th October 1848 of Carrick Gladden Cove - later re-named Carbis Bay

The collapse of the mining industry in the 1870s led to St Ives needing to re-invent itself as a health resort and the completion of the branch line from St Erth in 1877 improved access. By the early 1880s, the number of artists visiting increased and, of course, James Whistler, and his two pupils, Walter Sickert and Mortimer Menpes, stayed during January 1884.

 Painting by James Hook of the back of Smeaton's Pier

 Painting by James Hook of the back of Smeaton's Pier

The establishment of the colony in the winter of 1885 resulted from the visits of the French artist, Émile-Louis Vernier, who alerted various artists in the Breton art colony of Concarneau to the attractions of St Ives. First to arrive and settle in the town were Henry Harewood Robinson and his Irish wife, Dorothy, and they were joined in 1886 by a party of Americans, led by Edward Simmons. Also in St Ives in the summer of 1886 was Stanhope Forbes, and his new Canadian fiancée, Elizabeth Armstrong.

Thomas Hart's St Ives from Porthminster Point from the early 1870s.

Thomas Hart's St Ives from Porthminster Point from the early 1870s

The group of artists that painted together in St Ives in 1886 enjoyed their time so much that they returned in 1887, with further friends from Brittany, including Adrian Stokes, who had shared a studio in Concarneau with Edward Simmons, his Austrian wife, Marianne and her Finnish friend, Helene Schjerfbeck.

Of all the early foreign artist visitors to St Ives, the one to achieve the greatest international acclaim was the Swede, Anders Zorn, who arrived in late October 1877. It was in St Ives that Zorn, with the aid of Edward Simmons, first learnt to paint in oils and his painting Fisherman, St Ives was bought by the French Government in 1888.  The early reputation of the colony was further enhanced when St Ives works by Adrian Stokes, Edward Simmons, Howard Russell Butler and Helene Schjerfbeck won medals at the Paris World Exposition in 1899 which, as it marked the centenary of the French Revolution, was the most prestigious exhibition of the decade.

Adrian Stokes Marazion Marshes

In 1890, the artists formed the St Ives Arts Club as a social society and the distinctive half-timbered building on Westcott’s Quay has been the Clubhouse ever since.

The majority of the early St Ives colonists were figure painters and, when their paintings were shown at the Royal Academy, they were labelled ‘Newlyners’, as their style was influenced by their training in France in much the same way as the artists of the Newlyn colony, which had been established in 1882, a few years before that in St Ives.  Accordingly, the contribution that St Ives artists, such as William Titcomb, Wyly Grier, Edward Simmons, Marianne Stokes and Dorothy Robinson, made to the reputation of the ‘Newlyn School’ has been overlooked.

A key initial figure in the development of St Ives prior to 1914 as a world-renowned centre for both the practice and teaching of landscape and marine painting was the future Royal Academician, Adrian Stokes (1854-1935), whose experiences in a variety of European art colonies, resulted in a concentration on the careful study of tones and values, as advocated by the Barbizon School landscape painters. Stokes’ paintings drew down to St Ives a number of budding landscape students from the Herkomer Art School at Bushey, including Arnesby Brown, Arthur Meade, Algernon Talmage and Greville Morris. Sir John Arnesby Brown, in his day, was considered to be “the greatest English landscape painter since Constable” and worked in St Ives until 1910, whilst Talmage, who was very involved with the Schools of Painting in the town until 1908, also became a Royal Academician. Regular visitor, Sir Alfred East, was also an important influence in the colony until his death in 1913, whilst John Noble Barlow and Fred Milner were other key figures in the landscape section of the colony.

Arthur Meade  St Ives from Porthminster

Arthur Meade  - St Ives from Porthminster

St Ives’ reputation as a centre for marine painting was largely due to Julius Olsson, who became known as Britain’s greatest seascape painter, and he produced the finest work of his career in St Ives, particularly in the years 1900-1914.  Students of his, who became leading marine painters, included Norman Wilkinson, John Park, Borlase Smart and the Australians Richard Hayley Lever, Arthur Burgess, Charles Bryant and Sir William Ashton.  Other important marine painters in the colony were Edmund Fuller, Moffat Lindner and Louis Grier and the watercolourists Charles Mottram and John Bromley.

Mottram Nearing Home

Charles Mottram  Nearing Home

In the decade prior to 1914, numerous American artists worked in the colony and the St Ives artists achieved considerable success in America, particularly at the Carnegie International Exhibitions at Pittsburgh.  Key American artists were Elmer Schofield, William Wendt, George Gardner Symons, Frederick Waugh and Paul Dougherty.  St Ives was also visited by numerous other foreign artists, particularly from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

During the horrors of the First World War, art was a secondary consideration, but the colony was joined by the acclaimed New Zealander, Frances Hodgkins, the distinguished Belgian refugees Emile Fabry and Louis Reckelbus and the American illustrator Frank Ver Beck.  The aftermath of the War proved a difficult time, as the colony went through a period of transition, dominated by Charles Simpson and the School of Painting that he ran with his wife, Ruth.  In 1927, however, the artists felt that the colony had become moribund and so formed The St Ives Society of Artists.  This Society, led by Borlase Smart, flourished during the 1930s and 1940s, attracting many of the leading artists of the period, who had at some juncture in their careers painted in Cornwall, and winning a considerable reputation nationally due to the many touring shows that were staged at Public Galleries all over the country.  In fact, in 1947, the Society even staged a touring exhibition in South Africa. Members included the Royal Academicians Stanhope Forbes, Julius Olsson, Arnesby Brown, Adrian Stokes, Algernon Talmage, Terrick Williams, Lamorna Birch, Frank Brangwyn, Laura Knight, Dod and Ernest Procter, Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, Sir Alfred Munnings and Stanley Spencer.  Other artist members, whose works are in public collections, include Sir Claude Francis Barry, Arthur Burgess, Leonard Fuller, Harold Harvey, Arthur Hayward, Moffat Lindner, Arthur Meade, Fred Milner, Bernard Ninnes, John Park, Charles Pears, Leonard Richmond, Dorothea Sharp, Charles Simpson and Borlase Smart. The Society also had a strong ‘black and white’ section led by Sydney Lee RA with Alfred Hartley, Job Nixon, W.Westley Manning and Raymond Ray-Jones amongst others.

During and after the Second World War, artists with a more modern approach, such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Peter Lanyon, Sven Berlin and Terry Frost, joined the Society, but tensions between the moderns and the traditionalists built up after Borlase Smart’s death in 1947 and led to an acrimonious split in 1949, when nineteen members left to form the Penwith Society.  During the 1950s, representational work fell out of fashion and the modern artists in the colony, now known as ‘The St Ives School’, went on to secure international reputations.

Information from  David Tovey’s. St Ives Art Pre-1890, The Dawn Of The Colony, Pioneers Of St Ives Art At Home And Abroad (1889-1914), and Creating A Splash The St Ives Society Of Artists The First 25 Years.


Artists continue to come to St Ives, many making it their home. As a result St Ives has many art galleries.


St Ives Art Club

St Ives Art Club 




Arguably the most famous British sculptor Barbara Hepworth, made St Ives her home for the last and most productive 45 years of her life. A year after her death the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden was opened. One of her sculptures can be seen in the town outside the Guild Hall, another in the public library.


Tate Gallery St Ives

Epidaurous a bronze by Barbara Hepworth outside St Ives Guildhall



Tate Gallery

Bronze by Barbara Hepworth


Website of Art Historian
who specialises in St Ives art, the Newlyn School and the other Cornish art colonies of Lamorna and Falmouth in the period prior to 1950

St Ives Art Pre-1890, The Dawn Of The Colony  David Tovey

The Dawn Of The Colony

 Pioneers Of St Ives Art At Home And Abroad (1889-1914)  David Tovey


At Home And Abroad (1889-1914)

Creating A Splash The St Ives Society Of Artists The First 25 Years  David Tovey

The St Ives Society Of Artists The First 25 Years