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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Cornwall

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Painting portrait class
Interior of St Ives School of Painting, 1970s

© Roger Slack
The St Ives Art Colony: 1880-2004

St Ives, with its narrow cobbled streets, fishermen’s cottages and picturesque harbour, received its initial influx of visitors in the late 1870s when the Great Western Railway finally linked the town with the main Paddington to Penzance railway. Visitors reported that on clear sunny days, the green and purple sea reminded them of the Bay of Naples.

Two early artists who made the long journey west were Whistler and Sickert in the winter of 1883/84, and by the end of the decade St Ives had become a popular destination for wealthy professional landscape and marine artists who showed regularly at the Royal Academy in London, the Paris Salon and other prestigious European venues.

ships in harbour
St Ives Harbour
© St Ives Trust Archive Study Centre
They arrived, coincidentally, as the fishing and mining industries were in decline, and their desire to rent accommodation and pay for local servants and models brought much needed new income into the town. They took over the rapidly emptying fish lofts for studio spaces where they displayed their work, and a number started taking students. Each March major paintings, many of local views, were seen by the general public visiting the studios, prior to them being shown at the Royal Academy, and providing the town with a new found prominence.

Notable early visitors who made their homes in St Ives were Julius Olsson RA (1864-1942), Adrian Stokes RA (1854-1935) and Louis Reginald James Munroe Grier (1864-1920). These men were instrumental in setting up the St Ives Arts Club in 1890 where the artists of the day would meet regularly, along with writers, architects and photographers who were visiting the town

Words: Janet Axten

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