St Ives as an Artists Colony: A History
28th June 2017
Today, if you’re taking a trip down to St Ives, there are a number of things which strike you, but none more so than the sheer natural beauty of the area.
Located near the south-west tip of the UK, St Ives is blessed with a stunning clarity of light, rugged coastal scenery, wild moorlands, remarkable historical structures and seemingly endless ocean. From an aesthetic perspective alone, St Ives is a delight – and that’s without factoring in the incredible dining, cultural and sporting highlights.
It’s those aesthetic qualities which have drawn artists down to St Ives for over 200 years to live, work and create iconic works of art, across every imaginable medium. But when did all this artistic activity begin? Join us as we take you on an abbreviated journey through St Ives history as an art colony.
The story begins in the early 1800s when a certain J M W Turner was amongst the first to arrive with artistic purposes in St Ives, making a panoramic sketch of the town, harbour and coast, having been captivated by it at an earlier visit. The year was 1811.
During the latter half of the century, open air painting was rapidly growing in popularity, sending scores of artists out into rural areas across Europe to form colonies of artists. It wouldn’t be long until St Ives’ reputation as an ideal marine painting location would grow.
Indeed, the location of St Ives at the very bottom and west of the country meant that the weather was often warm enough to sit out all day, with long periods of sunshine enabling great painting conditions.
By 1877, a railway line had opened in St Ives, enabling the area to be easily accessed and paintings easily shipped back to London for exhibition or further shipping around Europe. Around the same time, the pilchard trade which had once been so vital for the area began to collapse, with many fishermen simply moving to different areas.
This resulted in a great many buildings being left vacant, which artists soon took over and converted to studios; the first of which was recorded in 1885, when the Right Honourable Duff Tollemach moved into an old sailor’s loft in Carncows Street, Downalong.
The next 20 years would be a blur of notable (and soon-to-be-notable) artists arriving in the area to work, including Whistler and two students Walter Sickert and Mortimer Mempes. 1887 found Swedish artist Anders Zorn arrive, and his painting of St Ives harbour bathed in twilight still hangs in the Louvre.
The early 1900s brought with them the expansion of the renowned St Ives Art Club and the expansion of the types of art being produced. For example, Bernard Leach, a leader in world pottery, arrived with Japanese potter Shoji Hamada to build Europe’s first oriental climbing kiln and spearheading a modern revival of pottery.
After that? Well, that’s a topic for another article. Until then though, why not come down and enjoy a superb self-catered holiday in St Ives and see why so many artists have called it home.