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Cornwall artists: Where do artists paint in Cornwall? St Michael's Mount

  • 7 min read

Artist John Dyer painting St Michael's Mount on his Land Rover Defender 110 at Marazion beach in Cornwall

Above: Artist John Dyer painting St Michael's Mount on his Land Rover Defender 110 at Marazion beach in Cornwall. Photograph taken for Rohan as John Dyer is a brand ambassador

Cornwall is a haven for artists, with its rugged coastline and stunning landscapes providing the perfect backdrop for creative expression. In this blog post, we will be looking at one specific location where many artists have painted: St Michael's Mount. This iconic mountaintop is located in Marazion, West Cornwall, and has been the subject of paintings by some of the finest artists in history. Let's take a closer look at some of these masterpieces!

St Michael's Mount

Situated just offshore from Marazion on the south coast of Cornwall, St Michael's Mount can be reached by a causeway when the tide is low or by boat during high tide. The island is home to a large medieval castle, which makes for quite an impressive sight when set against the backdrop of the sparkling sea in the summer, and the often dramatic waves in the winter. St Michael's Mount is a perfect example of the ever changing Cornish landscape that has historically attracted artists to the area.

The tiny harbour, situated in the lee of the island, has one of Cornwall's most picturesque backdrops. Not only is there a castle atop the Mount's looming, tree-covered slopes but also quaint cottages lining the lovely quayside.

This iconic Cornish view has been captured in paint countless times over the decades or even centuries. In this blog we have gathered together some examples of images painted by both visiting and Cornish artists, of this intriguing and beautiful spot.

JMW Turner (1775-1851)

Joseph Mallord William Turner, one of Britain's most famous artists, journeyed to Cornwall in 1811 in order to find inspiration for his work. He travelled widely around the South West sketched many picturesque scenes which he used as references later on when painting some of his greatest pieces.

Cornwall was a rural area with few people and no good roads at the time. Turner had to travel 17 hours from London, and once he got there, he mostly travelled on horseback or by foot. He would sketch as he went around the coast, sometimes sleeping in barns or trading his sketches for a place to stay in an inn, as many artists before, and after him!

It may even be his early travels around Cornwall that inspired artists and played an important part in steering art history by starting what would become a huge draw to the area for future artists.

He would do simple drawings while on his travels and later embellish these into paintings, which were often more of a representation of the place by the time he had added his personal touch in his expressionist landscape painting.

St Michael's Mount painting by Turner

Above: St Michael's Mount, Cornwall by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

William Brooks (active 1780-1801)

The earliest title in the Penlee House collection, is credited to William Brooks and is titled Mount's Bay (1794). Unfortunately, not much else is known about the artist.

St Michael's Mount painting by William Brooks

Above: Mount's Bay from Ludgvan by William Brooks (active 1780–1801). Courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum

In the painting above Brooks has taken a almost aerial view of Mount's Bay and the view to St Michael's Mount by working from the uplands that surround Penzance and Marazion.

Alfred Wallis (1855-1942)

Local artist and fisherman Alfred Wallis has painted the harbour of St Michael's Mount in several of his paintings. Alfred Wallis' paintings reflect the experienced he encountered throughout his lifetime, with much of his inspiration stemming from his love for the ocean. Prior to becoming an artist, his working as a fisherman, sailor and scrap merchant allowed him to gain first-hand knowledge of what it was like out at sea. Many of his works are based on personal memories while others document specific accounts of those he met during his time spent sailing boats and ships. He also made many paintings that show parts of St Ives and Penzance - several of his paintings depict boats at St Michael's Mount. An encounter with fellow St Cornwall artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood encouraged him to develop his work, resulting in many of the paintings he created.

St Michael's Mount painting by Alfred Wallis

Above: Mount's Bay with St Michael's Mount, Cornwall by Alfred Wallis (1855–1942). Courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds Museums and Galleries

The naivety and simplicity of his work continues to inspire artists today.

Terrick John Williams (1860-1936)

Originally from Liverpool, John Terrick Williams was born in 1860 and later studied under Verlat in Antwerp and Paris. He eventually settled in London to become a painter of marine landscapes and pastel portraits. His style evolved over time to capture light reflections and impressions of his surroundings. Throughout his career he travelled extensively, visiting Venice, St Tropez, Paris, Brittany and St Ives among other destinations. John Terrick Williams died in 1936; following his death, a memorial exhibition was held at the Fine Art Society in 1937.

St Michael's Mount painting by Terick John Williams

Above: St Michael's Mount, Cornwall by Terrick John Williams (1860–1936). Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts

Lamorna Birch (1869-1955)

As recommended by another one of the successful artists at Newlyn, Stanhope Forbes, in 1895 Birch went to art college in Paris to study. However, this short time studying abroad was the only formal learning he ever had; otherwise, he was a completely self-taught artist.

In 1896, Birch finally moved to Cornwall where he was influenced by the work of the Newlyn School painters. His use of a muted tonal range became apparent in his paintings. In 1902, he moved to Flagstaff Cottage at Lamorna Cove and took on the additional first name of Lamorna (at the suggestion of Stanhope Forbes) to distinguish himself from another local artist living in Newlyn named Lionel Birch. The move also proved instrumental in bringing Laura and Harold Knight among other artists to Cornwall.

St Michael's Mount painting by Lamorna Birch

Above: St Michael's Mount by Samuel John Lamorna Birch (1869–1955) Courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum

Garnet Ruskin Wolseley (1884-1967 )

Wolseley specialized in landscapes, figure paintings, and portraits. He was born in London in 1884 and attended the Bushey School of Painting on a scholarship before moving to the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1908, Wolseley moved to Newlyn, Cornwall where he became friends with Harold and Laura Knight; Laura had a great impact on his early work.

St Michael's Mount painting by Garnet Ruskin Wolseley

St Michael's Mount by Garnet Ruskin Wolseley (1884–1967). Courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum

He was a landscape artist and painted mostly around Newlyn and the Lamorna Valley. He would exhibit his work regularly in both London at the Royal Academy and in Bristol at the Royal West of England Academy where he was elected a member in 1925. Not only was he popular, but he was also active within the community of artists. In fact, he served on the main committee of the Newlyn Society of Artists from 1913 to 1918.

His works are now displayed in public collections such as Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance and Bushey Museum and Art Gallery.

Ronald Lampitt (1906-1988)

Artist and illustrator Ronald Lampitt illustated many Ladybird books in the 1970's. He was also famous for his Great Western Railway posters which are an inspiration for Joanne Short's vintage style posters. This poster image used for advertising St Michael's Mount and Marazion is a fantastic example of how iconic this view is.

Ronald George Lampitt St Michael's Mount vintage railway poster
St Michael's Mount (British Railways poster artwork) by Ronald George Lampitt (1906–1988). Courtesy National Railway Museum

Joan Gillchrest (1918-2008)

Gillchrest was born in London but moved to the fishing village of Mousehole near Land's End in 1958. Over the next 50 years, she perfected her depictions of views across Mount's Bay and St Michael's Mount, tin mines, coves, and more from Mousehole harbour. As a result of her hard work and her own unique style, Gillchrest received both critical acclaim and commercial success. St Ives artists Christopher Wood and Alfred Wallis were a huge influence on Gillchrest's work.

Painting of Mount's Bay and St Michael's Mount from Mousehole by Joan Gillchrest 

Above: Painting of Mount's Bay and St Michael's Mount from Mousehole by Joan Gillchrest (1918-2008)

For many years Joan Gillchrest lived in Mousehole, with views across the rooftops towards Mounts Bay. These views became a regular feature in her simple paintings.

Gillchrest’s naïve art with little or no perspective, is instantly recognisable - there is very little realism in her work. She had her own artistic vision, depicting Cornwall the way a summer holidaymaker would want to see it, with good weather and a calm sea, decorated with randomly bobbing boats and people calmly conversing while standing at harbour walls or sitting on benches enjoying the view. 

Fred Yates (1922-2008)

Fred Yates would often be seen out and about painting in Cornwall in the 1990s. A contemporary artist painting his famous colourful human and animal figures in thick oil paint, Fred Yates often painted the beach at Marazion and the view across the causeway to St Michaels Mount. His original artworks of Cornish coastal towns and harbours are in many private collections.

 Fred Yates painting of St Michael's Mount and Mount's Bay in Cornwall

Above: Fred Yates painting of Mount's Bay and St Michael's Mount in Cornwall

John Dyer and Joanne Short

Contemporary artists John Dyer and Joanne Short have both painted St Michael's Mount on many occasions and have been artists in residence for St Michael's Mount on three occasions.

John Dyer wall art poster print of St Michael's Mount

Above: Wall art poster print of St Michael's Mount by artist John Dyer. Available to buy online.

John says when talking about St Michael's Mount,

"This incredible view out into Mount's Bay is always an inspiration. From a young age I was always fascinated by this tiny island and its folklore. Since becoming a professional artist I take great pleasure in visiting Marazion, sitting on the beach and painting this 'Happy Place' from my childhood."

Marazion and St Michael's Mount. Art Prints of Cornwall by Cornish Artist Joanne Short. Cornwall Art Gallery, Vintage Style Posters.

Above: Wall art poster print of St Michael's Mount by artist Joanne Short. Available to buy online.

Joanne says,

"For me, on a sunny day, it is the view from the hills above the coast that I like to paint the most. The fields are often full of flowers - daffodils or agapanthus - and St Michael's Mount sits proudly in the bay, surrounded by blue and turquiose sea. What more could an artist want!"

Discover all the art available to buy from our Cornwall artists that has been inspired by St Michael's Mount on our gallery now.