The history of Cornish art is both fascinating and complex, given the huge number of influential artists who visited the county, either fleetingly or on a more permanent basis. The main centres of artistic activity can be broadly summarised as follows:
Newlyn: The Newlyn school was pioneered by Stanhope Forbes, Frank Bramley and Walter Langley who settled there in the early 1880s and is famous for plein-air social realism, with the local fishing community providing a large proportion of the subject matter. It attracted many influential artists who had worked in Brittany (in the Pont Aven, Quimperle and Concarneau areas) where the post-impressionists had established an active and vibrant artist colony around the 1860s. Stanhope Forbes established a school of art in the town that produced the next generation of artists. The Newlyn art scene thrived throughout the modern era through artists such as Michael Canney and continues to this day through an array of exciting contemporary artists.
St Ives: It was the extension of the Great Western Railway to West Cornwall in 1877 which brought many artists to Cornwall. The St Ives Art Club was formally founded in 1890. The first foray into forming the club began in 1888 and meetings took place in Louis Grier’s studio. The first President was Adrian Stokes who was married to the artist Marianne Stokes. Other founding members include Sir John Arnesby Brown, Sir Leslie Stephen, Adrian Strokes and W Titcomb. In 1890 letters were sent to the community inviting them to membership. Mr and Mrs. Stanhope Forbes, the Newlyn artists, accepted and their names appear at the top of the page of the first meeting. Also active during this period was Julius Olsson who ran the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting in the town, first with Louis Grier and subsequently with Algernon Talmage. St Ives is renowned for it's modernist painters, but the story of art in the town is so much deeper than the version offered by many commentators, who generally begin the story with the apocryphal "discovery" of Alfred Wallis by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood! Of course, "the moderns" who included Peter Lanyon and Roger Hilton, played a pivotal role in the history of St Ives art but their development was a progression encouraged and championed by artists such as Robert Borlase Smart, Leonard Fuller and Marjorie Mostyn rather than the dawn of a new movement. The contemporary art scene in the town continues to thrive and includes artists such as Eric Ward, John Emanuel and Linda Weir.
Lamorna: The Lamorna group of artists who painted in the valley pre-1918 is legendary and included artists such as Laura and Harold Knight, Alfred Munnings, Thomas Gotch, Robert and Eleanor Hughes, Frank and Jessica Heath, Benjamin Leader, Algernon Newton, Garnet Wolseley, Charles and Ella Naper, Charles and Ruth Simpson and John Noble Barlow. The film 'Summer in February' focuses on the bohemian artists in the Lamorna Group, dominated by the charismatic AJ Munnings.
Falmouth: Charles Napier Hemy, Henry Scott Tuke and William Ayerst Ingram were all Falmouth based. Today artists of international reputations are attracted to the area including Kurt Jackson and David Nash.
The Lizard: Many local artists famously painted on the Lizard, including J.C.Uren, William Casley, Leonard Casley, John George Philp, Thomas Hart (father of twelve children, seven of whom became artists themselves, five of these professionally: Horace Percival Hart, Herbert Passingham Hart, Claude Montague Hart, Tracey Douglas Dyke Hart, Ruby Irene Hart, Marie Louise Hart and Sydney Ernest Hart.). Garstin Cox worked from the Atlantic Studio (1930). Many of the Lizard artists pre-date the Newlyn and StIves schools.
Other centres of artistic activity include Newquay and towns on the south coast including Fowey, Mevagissey, Polperro and Looe.