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Cornish Artists: Why is Cornwall so amazing for art?

  • 7 min read

Cornish Artists: Why is Cornwall so amazing for art?

Above: Cornish artist John Dyer painting en plein air on the beach of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall

Artist Cornwall

Cornwall is the most fantastic county in the UK, well as far as we are concerned, as its geographical dimensions allow you to travel from the rugged, windswept wide sandy beaches and cliffs of the North Coast of Cornwall to the sheltered coast and sub-tropical feel of the South Coast of Cornwall in just 7.7 miles between St Ives and Penzance. In between, there are the moorlands or Penwith, ancient standing stones, stunning vistas and the evocative remains of the once mighty tin mining industry. Cornwall has it all, and it has not gone unnoticed by the many artists who have frequented Cornwall for the past 200 years.

Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Starlit Walk to Pendeen Lighthouse'. Cornwall Art Gallery Print

Above: Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Starlit Walk to Pendeen Lighthouse'. Buy online.

Fine Art

Cornwall has attracted the world's best fine artists for a very long time, and as soon as the railway line arrived in Penzance, a steady stream of talent arrived. These migrating new Cornish artists met, learnt from and influenced many an indigenous local artist and the combination of ideas was revolutionary. This broad artistic vision has been a critical part of Cornwall's art history that has helped to inspire artists ever since. Oil painting, fine art printmaking, mixed media, charcoal drawings, impressionistic style, drawing, acrylic painting and sculpture have all thrived in the melting pot of geography, ideas and talent that Cornwall naturally has and attracted.

Falmouth Art College

By the 1950s, Cornwall had established itself as the global centre of fine art with the contemporary artist Ben Nicholson, born in Buckinghamshire, establishing the world's leading art colony in St Ives. Nicholson developed his unique style, significantly influenced by the native naïve artist Alfred Wallis. This spark created the catalyst that put Falmouth School of Art and St Ives on the global map.

Falmouth School of Art Woodland Entrance

Above: The entrance to the Falmouth School of Art University site off Woodlane in Falmouth

Falmouth School of Art was founded in 1902 and was a private art school that focused on drawing and painting from life. In 1938 it was taken over by the local education authority in Cornwall. By the 1940s, it had grown to the dizzy heights of 6 full-time lectures and 21 full-time students, 55 part-time student artists and another 104 participating in the evenings. There were two strands at the art school at the time, art and craft. Many of Cornwall's most famous artists have taught at the now Falmouth University, including Cornish artists Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynter, John Dyer and Joanne Short. Falmouth College, or Falmouth University as it is now known, has grown to be a major educational institution with many thousands of students on their Falmouth and Penryn campuses studying art, design and humanities.

John Dyer art displayed at Falmouth School of Art in 1987

Above: John Dyer art displayed at Falmouth School of Art in 1987

Expressionist Landscape Painting

The Cornish landscape and seascapes lend themselves to expressionistic Cornish paintings of abstract, figurative, colourist and naïve genres. West Cornwall, with the seaside coastal towns of St Ives on the North Coast of Cornwall and Falmouth on the South Coast of Cornwall, are the creative hub from the past to the present day. The ever-changing Cornish landscape has been explored for generations in these two locations, with each artist developing their own intensely personal process.

Cornwall artist Joanne Short painting en plein air in Cornwall

Above: Cornish artist Joanne Short painting 'en plein air' on the cliffs in Cornwall

Many Cornwall artists are of the 'en plein air artist' school, which simply means they like to paint outside in the fresh air and landscape, reacting to the world instead of creating all their art in a studio. Artists such as Fred Yates, John Dyer, Alfred Wallis, Joan Gillchrest, Joanne Short and Bryan Pearce have become famous worldwide for their unique style of Cornish art. Each of these Cornish artists is a largely self-taught artist or painter which has allowed them to focus on their inner voice and visual passions for the world. The original artworks from all of these artists are widely sought after and collected internationally, with the prices increasing, so they are great investments and beautiful paintings to own.

Why is John Dyer one of Cornwall's most famous artists?

John Dyer painting in the rainforest biome of the Eden Project in 2022

Above: John Dyer at work painting in the rainforest biome of the Eden Project for a Last Chance to Paint broadcast to 4000 children and young artists around the world in 2022.

John Dyer is arguably Cornwall's most famous contemporary artist. His paintings are well now all over the world, and his unique style is instantly recognisable. John Dyer trained at Falmouth School of Art from 1986 to 1987 on the foundation art course before moving to London to study graphic design, painting, photography and drawing at Middlesex Polytechnic (now university and previously the Hornsey College of art).

Artist John Dyer pictured sitting on a 4x4 in Brazil during his first Amazon rainforest expedition

Whilst on his degree course, Dyer was selected as one of a handful of the very best art students in London by Thames TV and awarded funding to travel to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Dyer travelled widely in the rainforest, and it was this inspiration that created him as a painter as, on his return, his paintings were inspired by the energetic tropical forms and colours he had discovered in the jungles of Brazil.

John Dyer at work on a Amazon rainforest painting 'Nawê - Spirits of the Amazon Rainforest'

Above: John Dyer painting 'Nawê - Spirits of the Amazon Rainforest' which is available as a signed limited edition print

From a very young age, Dyer lived and explored the Cornish landscape using art at Holywell Bay in North Cornwall. An avid photographer and naturalist, he was increasingly focused on the natural world. This passion for life means he has travelled widely to many endangered parts of the world and has been the official artist in residence for the Eden Project for over twenty years.

John Dyer's original paintings are in many private collections and use human and animal figures within the landscape. His art has been ideally suited to prints and greetings cards which are sold internationally. As a professional artist in Cornwall, Dyer is unique as his work not only celebrates the special Cornish light, but has had a huge influence on other generations. As an academic lecturer for nine years at Falmouth School of Art in the 1990s many thousands of young people benefited from his ideas and visual knowledge.

Cornish Contemporary Artwork

'Puffins at Pentle Bay, Tresco'. 33x40 inches original art acrylic on board. Paintings of Cornwall by Cornish Artist John Dyer. Cornwall Art Gallery

Above: 'Puffins at Pentle Bay, Tresco'. 33x40 inches original art acrylic on board by John Dyer.

John Dyer is now at the forefront of contemporary art in Cornwall, with his unique style being recognised worldwide as he was appointed as an Artist for the Earth by for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Dyer is the founder of Last Chance to Paint and is actively involved in inspiring young people around the world to paint, with over 50,000 children currently involved.

There are so many Cornish artists today, and with social media and websites, it is hard to discover and focus on quality. Falmouth University produces hundreds of artists and illustrators every year, and many choose to stay in Cornwall. When looking to buy art from any Cornwall artist, look into their career and history to discover if they are copying a style of another artist or breaking out with their own unique style of artwork.

Genres of art such as the Naïve Cornish, Newlyn School, St Ives Society, St Ives School of Art and more are areas many contemporary Cornish artists will be exploring. Have a look at when the artist started painting, have they exhibited widely, where did they study, do they actually live and work in South West Cornwall and is their work unique or a copy of a better-known artist?

'Full Moon over Mylor Harbour', 
18 x 18 inches, oil on canvas. Painting by Cornish Artist Joanne Short. Cornish Art from our Cornwall Art Gallery

Above: 'Full Moon over Mylor Harbour', 
18 x 18 inches, oil on canvas. Painting by Cornish Artist Joanne Short.

Cornwall artist Joane Short is another very well know and highly sought after contemporary artist. Joanne Short trained alongside John Dyer at Falmouth School of Art before moving to Italy to study Fine Art, paintings, drawings, printmaking and mixed media.

On her return to Cornwall in the early 1990s, she was immediately asked to lecture at Falmouth School of Art, which she did for seven years on several courses. Her unique way of oil painting and interpreting the landscape means her colourist  oil paintings are highly collectable and provide a unique view of the West country.

Ted Dyer Framed Open Edition Cornish Fine Art Print. 'Sailing around the Islands, Tresco'. Cornwall Art Gallery

Above: Ted Dyer Open Edition Cornish Fine Art Print. 'Sailing around the Islands, Tresco. 

Artist Ted Dyer is Cornwall's leading figurative Cornish impressionist painter. Now in his 80s, he has been painting the most remarkable paintings of the Cornish coast for over 60 years. His use of oil paint, light and narrative has placed him at the forefront of Cornish art for generations.

Discover Cornish Art Online

John Dyer open-edition print 'Cat on a Kashmir'

Above: John Dyer's painting 'Cat on a Kashmir' from the early 1990s. Available now as a museum-quality open-edition print

With the advent of the internet, Cornish artists started to place their art online to reach a wider audience. John Dyer was possibly the very first to do this in 1994 with his painting 'Cat on a Kashmir' whilst lecturing at Falmouth University. His interest in using the online space to exhibit has grown from that point and his single initial page online has now grown to be Cornwall's very best online art gallery to discover original artworks and prints to enjoy in your home or workplace.

Why not find your perfect piece of art from our Cornish artists and discover learning about their life and work on today? With free global delivery and the very highest quality art, you can relax in knowing you have discovered art that has a great history and future.

If you are visiting Cornwall or visiting St Ives, do visit the art galleries but also come back to The John Dyer Gallery online as we are available worldwide to all our clients and offer the most comprehensive collection of Cornish art, paintings and prints you will find.