"Falmouth Art Gallery commissioned local artists and automata-makers to interpret Brunel’s achievements in a fun and accessible way in order to complement the rare photographs. This included Falmouth artist John Dyer, who has produced a number of celebratory paintings for the Falmouth Tall Ships Festival and Ellen MacArthur’s triumphant return to Falmouth."
Brian Stewart - Director Falmouth Art Gallery
The construction of the Royal Albert railway bridge over the Tamar between Plymouth and Saltash was probably the single biggest contribution towards linking Cornwall to the rest of the country in the mid nineteenth century. It was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose bicentenary of his birth was celebrated throughout the country in 2006 in a programme of events called ‘Brunel 200’. After it was opened by Prince Albert in 1859, the immensely strong wrought iron bridge enabled the extension of the Great Western Railway into Cornwall as far as the end of the line in Penzance. This brought many more tourists, including artists, into the county and led eventually to helping to set up artists’ colonies in Newlyn and St Ives. Falmouth Art Gallery’s part in the ‘Brunel 200’ celebrations was to commission a commemorative painting for which John was ‘the natural choice’ of artist. Aptly entitled Gateway to Cornwall, John’s painting shows the bridge from the Devon side and was used to help teach hundreds of school-children, in an accessible and informal way, about the significance of Brunel and his contribution to the economy of the West Country.
"Brian Stewart, the director of Falmouth Art gallery, and myself worked out the essence of this painting on the back of a paper napkin whilst having a picnic lunch together. Falmouth Art Gallery had quite a few subjects they wanted to include and it was a fascinating commission to take on."
The Brunel 200 exhibition happened as a result of a successful collaboration with Brunel 200, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Royal Cornwall Museum, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, University College Falmouth and Falmouth River Festival.