There is so much to like about this exhibition.
It’s about Cornwall and art in Cornwall. And it’s in a fabulous building.
Cornwall is known for its communities of artists (it’s not a coincidence that the Tate opened a branch there). Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth are names which come to mind immediately when you think about art in Cornwall, right? But they were preceded by a bunch of artists who set to revolutionise art.
Up to that point, artists in Cornwall were very much into pretty landscapes and harbours. There was no sign of any industrial reality… and this was very much Dickens’s time.
Thankfully, a group of artists decided to branch out and document the Cornish working life. And what we see is a harsh life. People hard at work. Miners and fishermen working the fields after working hours to earn extra income. Women selling fish door-to-door or mending nets.
(‘Packing Fish, St Ives Harbour’ by Gwendoline Margaret Hopton, via BBC)
(‘Pilchards’, Charles Napier Hemy (1897), via Tate)
The artists painted en plein-air. They believed this would help them to achieve true and accurate representations of their subjects. People are seen in their natural working environments.
Throughout the exhibition, there are anecdotes which tells us so much about what life was like in Cornwall at the time. While courting, fishermen would place much importance to the fact that a woman could mend nets (this would mean great financial savings). We learn that when a vessel from Suffolk came to fish on the sabbath, it led to riots. We find out that seaweed was used as a natural fertiliser.
I was fascinated to learn that the artist-led community took the initiative to revive crafts in the rural areas. How cool is that? Creating jobs. Ensuring that skills and craft were not lost.
Two Temple Place is a fabulous building too. Just look at that ceiling!
AMONGST HEROES: the artist in working Cornwall is on at Two Temple Place until 14 April 2013. Admission fee.