St Ives: Cornwall's art centre

Published: Tuesday 26th Nov 2013

The small seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall is similar to many other beautiful spots throughout the county, with its pretty aesthetics and colourful fishing heritage. Yet it is these two features which have led to the development of a uniquely prominent art scene that has attracted and inspired many artists of stature over the years.

This has led to a number of famous galleries setting up shop in St Ives, most notably the Tate St Ives, which together have made the most of the prominent artists who live there and the beautiful location that attracts visitors from all over the country coming to stay in St Ives cottages and accommodation.

The Tate St Ives

The Tate is one of the largest and most prestigious art gallery networks in the country, with the Tate Modern, Britain, Liverpool and, of course, St Ives forming what is considered one of the biggest contributions to the UK art world and art education in history. The Tate St Ives first opened in 1993 and overlooks Porthmeor Beach, which is just round from St Ives Bay.

The major art gallery features the work of international, national and local artists, including those of Ben Nicholson - a prominent British painter who was a member of the St Ives Society of Artists and was married to the renowned St Ives artist Barbara Hepworth for 13 years. While neither artist was originally from St Ives, or Cornwall for that matter, the two clearly felt a link with the seaside town and found it had a profound effect on their work, deciding to move their family there at the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Although Hepworth and Nicholson divorced in 1951, Hepworth continued to live in St Ives until she died in a fire at her studio in the town. She was made a Dame 10 years prior to this in 1965 and enjoyed a long and successful art career.

The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is owned and run by the Tate St Ives and is situated at her former work base, Trewyn Studio. The museum and garden hosts works of sculpture, drawings and paintings by the artist, alongside archive material to truly celebrate the life and work of Dame Hepworth. The studio was made into a museum displaying her work following her death, after she had expressed a wish for her studio and home to be given over to the public in such a manner. An interview with the artist on her life and work in St Ives can be seen here.

St Ives School

The St Ives School describes a collective of artists who have lived and worked in the town. The Tate St Ives holds one of the larger collections of St Ives School artwork today from their most active years in the 1950s and '60s.

The group is said to have begun with the establishment of the Great Western Railway in 1877, which led to a number of artists coming to the area and discovering the inspiration they could gain from the seaside town. Ben Nicholson was one of those early artists to come to St Ives in 1928, along with Christopher Wood, who discovered the work of local St Ives artist Alfred Wallis; this marked the beginnings of St Ives’ celebrated art reputation.

Local galleries

Alongside the Tate St Ives, there are a number of smaller art galleries in the town which celebrate the established art presence that continues to grow there. One such location is the Art Space Gallery that has been displaying local art since 2000. The gallery started off on a relatively small scale but has since gained momentum and moved to larger premises to where it is now based - The Wharf. Displaying paintings, prints and 3D works, the Art Space Gallery shows how art is inspired by the local landscape, as a vast number of the works exhibited are inspired by St Ives and the surrounding area.

The Belgrave Gallery is another local gallery displaying contemporary and modern pieces. The gallery looks to celebrate the work of artists native to Cornwall and inspired by the local area from the 1930s onwards. The Belgrave St Ives opened in the heart of the town in 1998 after the first Belgrave was established in London, illustrating St Ives’ strong art presence, with the town regarded as a cultural hub for the entire west of the country.

St Ives also has a strong pottery and ceramics history, with Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada establishing the first pottery in the town in 1920. St Ives Ceramics is owned by John Bedding, who is the former apprentice of Leach and studied under him for nearly 10 years. Located in Fish Street, the gallery is considered one of the most important of its kind in the country and is visited by many people every year.

St Ives has produced both artists and galleries for decades and will continue to develop its art scene for years to come, as new artists arrive to discover exactly why the small town has built itself such an immense following. From the Tate St Ives to its smaller galleries, there are no limits to the ever increasing potential of Cornwall's burgeoning artistic landscape.

Image Credits: photophilde, HerryLawford  (