Despite, and largely because of, the much-bemoaned weather in our country, the UK is undoubtedly a green and pleasant land with rolling hills, dramatic coastline and picturesque villages. There are countless beautiful spots across the country to visit, admire, paint, draw or photograph. So why is that the quaint, historic fishing village of St Ives, located almost as far southwest as you can travel on land in Cornwall, is so famous for its art and artist’s community? How did one of the country’s most famous art galleries come to be sited a literal stone’s throw from pretty Porthmeor beach, and what is it that, for centuries, has drawn artists all the way down here to inspire them to create some of their finest works?
The first known visit by a prominent artist was Turner in the early 1800s. As the railway between London and Cornwall wasn’t completed until the late 19th century, it would have been more than a quick hop to visit St Ives back then! Once the railway was built, more artists started to come for inspiration, apparently moved by the unique quality of light that many creatives still talk about. No-one is really sure of the reason for this particular phenomenon, it may be due to the geography of the landscape, with the small town being surrounded by water on both sides, but with the slow decay of the fishing industry at the start of the 20th century, and relative ease of access with the shiny new train line, greater numbers of super talented individuals started to visit, and subsequently settle in St Ives.
In 1920 Bernard Leach, now known as the leading figure of the British pottery scene, and the Japanese potter Shōji Hamada set up the Leach Pottery. This legendary place is still a driving force in the arts scene and the Leach Pottery studio, museum and gallery continue to sustain and develop Bernard Leach’s historic legacy. A visit here is highly recommended, where you can explore the 100-year-old pottery; the clay room, the throwing room with kick wheels and the Japanese climbing kiln. You will learn about the history of this revered artist, the historic pottery and the many potters that have spent time training and working there.
Probably the best known of the St Ives artists, certainly the one that most people will have heard the name of, is world renowned sculptor Barbara Hepworth. She settled here just before the second world war, declaring that ‘I have gained very great inspiration from the Cornish land and seascape, the horizontal line of the sea and the quality of light and colour which reminds me of the Mediterranean light and colour which so excites one’s sense of form’. In a career spanning five decades, she helped found the ‘Penwith Society of Arts’ with founding members including Peter Lanyon and Bernard Leach, and was a leading figure in the international art scene. ‘Though concerned with form and abstraction, Hepworth’s art was primarily about relationships: not merely between two forms presented side-by-side, but between the human figure and the landscape, colour and texture, and most importantly between people at an individual and social level’ (Tate Gallery)
The Tate Gallery’s connection with St Ives formed when it took over the management of the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1980. By the middle of the decade, it was decided a gallery should be built there to show works by artists who had lived or worked in St Ives, and Tate St Ives was born. Built overlooking Porthmeor, one of the UK’s finest beaches and the source of inspiration for many fine works of art, Tate St Ives is a gallery like no other.
The numerous St Ives School group of artists and writers, who’s imaginations had been captured by the surrounding dramatic landscapes, and the ever-changing light of this wonderful town, created a community of revolutionary thinkers, making significant contributions to the story of British Modernism. The list of famous artists that have based themselves in St Ives over the last century is vast, if you would like to find out more, a visit to the Tate Gallery and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is a great start.
art at Una St Ives
A fine example of a modern-day artist whose work is inspired by the magical surroundings of St Ives, and by the world-famous creatives that have lived and worked here, is Jordan Amy Lee. Graduating from the renowned Falmouth Art College in 2019, Jordan’s work often incorporates bold colours, stripped-back compositions and delicate textures. Una St Ives has commissioned Jordan to develop a range of illustrations that reflects the quality of life at Una and right across the St Ives area. Recent work includes her interpretations of Carbis Bay, St Ives Harbour and Porthmeor beach. You can see examples of Jordan’s stunning paintings adorning the walls of Una, we are sure you will love them as much as we do.