Our one and only visit to Tate St Ives was a disappointment. Admittedly it was a few years ago, but I don’t think a lot has changed. I had assumed that it would be full of work by members of the St Ives and Newlyn Schools, amongst other notably local artists, but it wasn’t.
Today we visited Penlee House in Penzance where we saw more of this art then I have seen anywhere before. The Council run this gallery space and museum with its own Memorial Garden, all situated close to sub-tropical Morrab Gardens, both just a stone’s throw from Western Promenade and the sea.
We went to see ‘A Passion for Cornish Art’, an exhibition of a private collection of this elusive art. The blurb that went with it explained why famous Cornish art is so hard to see in local public spaces: it is valuable and often locked away in private collections, like the one on display today. I guess the big London galleries also have a lot of this stuff, but it would be nice to see it closer to Home.
The collection we saw will end in January 2024 when it comes under the hammer, so these paintings are unlikely to be seen together again, unless Penlee House intervene as they seem to specialise in borrowing private collections for us all to see. Trouble is, this is harder the more it is dispersed and I doubt that many private collectors have such as single-minded passion for Cornish art.
Anyway, as well as the regular exhibitions, the small local museum in Penlee House is worth a visit in its own right. I found out lots of interesting things: that Sir Humphrey Davey, of Safety Lamp fame, was born in Penzance, though his lamps weren’t needed in tin mines; that a Victoria Cross won by a sailor has a blue ribbon; that small animal horns were used by sailors to drink their ‘tots’ of rum; that the Penzance town crest has the head of St John the Baptist on it because the name of the town is derived from words that mean Holy Head; that there was a local copper art trade in Newlyn; that suffragettes started protect marches in Penzance; and that there was a lost forest submerged in Mounts Bay, between Penzance and St Michael’s Mount, and many other things.
An interesting day out. And well worth checking out their exhibitions. In the summer of 2024 they will be featuring one of the two Cornish born artists of the Newlyn School, Harold Harvey.