Artists’ colonies from Yorkshire to Cornwall

I realise that I am stretching it by including Cornwall in this blog as it is probably as far away from Yorkshire as you could get.

But having returned from a glorious week in St Ives, I was surprised at the similarities between the two counties, especially the little fishing villages which reminded me of those on the Yorkshire coast – Robin Hood’s Bay, Staithes and Runswick Bay.

Take St Ives and Staithes for example. Both places are traditional fishing harbours with higgledy piggledy houses stacked up around a bay. They were also once artist colonies and are both still thriving artistic communities. During the 19th and 20th centuries the same group of artists spent time in both villages, attracted by the perfect light and subject matter.

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Looking back at Porthminster Beach and St Ives from the coastal path

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Looking back at Staithes from the Cleveland Way walk

About 10 miles south of St Ives is another former artists’ colony, Newlyn, near Penzance. The artists who settled here from the 1880s onwards thought it had the feel of the fishing villages in Brittany. For them it provided not only a picturesque setting looking across to Mount’s Bay, it also provided great subjects. The fishermen and their families and their often treacherous lives at sea are captured in many of the paintings from here.

On our trip we called into the Newlyn Art Gallery before heading to Penzance to the sister gallery the Exchange. Much of the work of the artists who lived in Newlyn, nearby Lamorna and St Ives is now at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance which we will have to do on another visit (I can only push my interest in art so far with the kids).

Today Newlyn is a busy fishing port with hundreds of boats bringing in the catch each day. Word has it that the morning’s catch at Newlyn is on the menu of many top London restaurants the same evening.

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Newlyn harbour – also once an artists’ colony. St Michael’s Mount in the distance

St Ives is also home to the Tate St Ives, currently closed for refurbishment so we didn’t get to visit. However, Yorkshire-born Barbara Hepworth, who I wrote about in an early post, also set up home in St Ives and her former home and studio is now a wonderful museum celebrating her work. If you ever go, it’s worth joining the guided tour which really brings her story to life. Her huge sculptures look fantastic in the sheltered walled garden of her old home.

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But back to Yorkshire and Staithes and its artistic community. I always think Staithes is a great place to visit whatever the time of year. We’ve been in summer and played on the sand or winter and collected fossils. There’s also a beautiful coastal walk from Staithes to Runswick Bay (part of the Cleveland Way). Stop off at The Ship Inn in Port Mulgrave, half way along the route, which has a lovely little tearoom and garden.

The Staithes Gallery in the centre of Staithes, is currently celebrating its 10th birthday and we have been coming here since it opened. As part of their anniversary the gallery is displaying the wonderfully vibrant paintings of Rob Shaw, a local artist whose work they have featured from the start.

Behind the  Staithes Gallery is the former studio of Staithes Group Artists Harold and Laura Knight who painted here in the 1890s. You can rent the cottage – it looks gorgeous but more suitable for a romantic weekend away rather than a rumbustious week away with three young lads.

You can also do painting weekends at the Staithes Art School if you fancy reliving the life of the former artists here by painting en plein air or in the open air.

And although it’s a bit of a way off, The Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage, on September 10th and 11th is worth a visit. A hundred plus artists throw open their doors to show off their work. It’s fascinating getting a glimpse inside these tiny fisherman’s cottages that are now hubs of creativity. There’s also a celebration of fossils, fishing and some wonderful old photographs of Staithes as well as live music, food, talks and workshops.

Might see you there!

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