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Famous Cornish Artists. The History of Cornwall's leading Artists and New Paintings

Cornish Artists: Cornwall Artists and Art History

Cornwall has a rich and diverse artistic heritage of Cornwall artists and fine art that has thrived for centuries and is very much alive to this day. One of the most important elements of Cornwall's fine art history is the primitive or naïve art genre of art. The naïve paintings of West Cornwall St Ives artist Alfred Wallis have inspired Cornwall artists from Ben Nicholson to John Dyer. Alfred Wallis was the start of the contemporary Cornish landscape painting movement that is continued to this day with the work of contemporary Cornwall-based artists John Dyer (born 1968) and Joanne Short (born 1967). This rich artistic strand explored by the leading current Cornish artists is at the forefront of modern Cornish painting and drawing and artistic vision, and many of our favourite landscape painting Cornish artists belong to this school of art. 

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Find out more with our Cornish Artist Timeline; The Who's Who of Cornwall Artists & Cornish Art

South West Cornwall

Cornwall is very diverse, and it has Cornish artists and Cornish sculptors exploring all areas of the ever-changing Cornish landscape, environment, history and beauty of the county through artwork, mixed media, painting, fine art, sculpture, performance and site-specific pieces. In particular, St Ives and West Cornwall are very popular destinations for painters to explore the Cornish landscape. Cornish artists find the combination in St Ives of the bright sunshine, amazing light, dramatic skies, and crashing waves combined with their intensely personal process irresistible and this is the inspiration where much of the most famous landscape painting began for the best-known Cornish artists.

St Ives

The small town of St Ives in West Cornwall has been a popular destination for artists since the late 19th century. This is due in part to the stunning coastal scenery, which has provided plenty of inspiration for St Ives artists past and present, but it is also down to the welcoming and supportive art community in St Ives. In addition, the town's location makes it easy for artists to travel to other parts of Cornwall and beyond to find new subjects and ideas for their work as it is connected to the rail line and geographically it is a very short distance from St Ives on the North Coast of Cornwall to Penzance on the South Coast of Cornwall. As a professional artist, St Ives has it all and many Cornish artists have made it their home.

The Cornwall School of Art: Cornish Artists

Many Cornish artists are described as a 'local artist', a 'self-taught artist' or as an 'en plein air artist', and the reality is this combination has created some of the country's most celebrated and honest pieces of fine art and many of the best artists. Cornwall is a school of fine art in its own right, but within Cornwall, there is a cultural triangle from the Falmouth School of Art to the Newlyn Society School of Art and the St Ives Society of Art. This West Cornwall geographical area is vibrant with an eclectic range of creative talent and artwork by Cornish artists working in the expressionist landscape painting genre and with many other fine art practitioners involved in art, crafts, design and performance.

Many private collections, museums, public art galleries and private collectors of Cornish art buy art from Cornwall, including acrylic paintings, oil paintings, mixed media art, limited edition printsoriginal artworks, & beach scenes in their curated collections. Much of this Cornish art focuses on capturing the special Cornish light, narrative, colour and essence of the Cornish coast. These original paintings and other pieces of artwork from historical and contemporary Cornish artists in West Cornwall have found homes in many houses around Cornwall and the significant public collections at Penlee House Gallery & Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery. Paintings by Cornish artists John Dyer, Joanne Short and Ted Dyer can be viewed at Falmouth Art Gallery on request and in their mixed exhibitions.

Cornwall Artists - New Paintings for Sale

Cornwall's most famous Cornish landscape painting artists include contemporary artist John Dyer and artists Joanne Short and Ted Dyer.

Ted Dyer

The West Country oil paintings of Ted Dyer are extraordinary and he is recognised for his impressionistic style, use of oil paint, and amazing original paintings of the Cornish landscape and sea. Ted Dyer is a master of oil painting and his paintings are true modern classics that are highly collectable.

View and buy Ted Dyer original paintings online.

Joanne Short

The history of the St Ives artists has influenced famous Cornish artist Joanne Short, whose oil paintings continue and echo the great working artist from St Ives Bryan Pearce and his amazing artistic journey and paintings. Joanne's original paintings are highly sought after and are sold internationally all over the world as her unique colourist paintings of Cornwall are ideally suited to many interiors and are sought out by investors and collectors of art. Joanne studied at art college in Falmouth alongside artist John Dyer and Cornish art has had a huge influence on her artwork.

View and buy Joanne Short original paintings online.

John Dyer

Cornwall-based artist John Dyer is one of the most famous Falmouth School of Art alumni and has been actively involved and exhibits regularly his unique Cornish landscape paintings. His art features the West Cornwall landscape and has a rich narrative with human and animal figures used in every piece of his artwork. John Dyer also has an extensive and very popular range of signed limited edition prints featuring the Cornish landscape and his original paintings.

View and buy John Dyer paintings online.

"There is an innocence and freshness to John Dyer's art that follows a tradition in Cornwall that includes the work of Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, Fred Yates and Bryan Pearce." Brian Stewart, curator Falmouth Art Gallery, UK

Cornish Artists & Art History

Cornwall has a rich and varied art history, with artists ranging from Stanhope Forbes to John Dyer. Some of the most famous names in the art world have come from Cornwall and with it a variety of styles and techniques, but naive art is one of the strongest and most important aspects of Cornwall's art history as it provides the foundation of how artists see and interpret the landscape and seascapes of Cornwall.

What is Naïve art?

Naïve art is an art genre based on the idea that children are born 'naive' or unspoiled by cultural influences, and therefore represent a pure form of humanity. This naivety allows them to instinctively create in ways adults cannot. It is by definition fresh, new, innovative and free. It is an art form with no bounds and is the most powerful source of artistic inspiration to inspire artists.

The term 'naive art' was first used in describing the artwork of French post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), who said he painted according to "the nature of a child" and was eventually recognised as a self-taught genius of art. His paintings of the rainforest and jungle are an influence today and connect to the new genre of art John Dyer discovered and created in the Amazon rainforest.

In recent years, the debate has raged about whether this style should be classified as primitive or simply different from more traditional forms of painting. But whatever you call it, there's no denying that these naive paintings have their own unique charm and appeal.

Naïve art has allowed art to branch out to form new genres of colourist naive art like artist Joanne Short's paintings, abstracted art like Patrick Heron's paintings and totally abstract art like Anthony Frost's mixed media artworks. In a way breaking free from reality through the powerful lens of naïve art has been the seed of all modern and contemporary art in Cornwall which in turn has created the best and most widely collected school of Cornwall artists.

Let's take a look at some of the most famous and celebrated Cornish artists:

Cornwall Artists are listed by date of birth on our timeline.

Alfred Wallis 

Born in 1855 Died in 1942

Above: Headland with Two Three Masters by Alfred Wallis

For the majority of his life, Alfred Wallis lived in St Ives and it was after his wife's death in 1922 that he began painting six days a week "for company." The Cornish town figured prominently in many of his paintings, especially the port as seen above.

Alfred Wallis was a fisherman and mariner as well as a mixed-media painter and Cornish artist. Wallis was 'discovered' in St Ives by British artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood in 1928.

Wallis began painting at the age of seventy. Wallis painted memories of deep-sea fishing boats which were no longer in use. He also painted landscapes based on the surrounding area.

Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood were impressed by the directness of the work and the object-like qualities of his paintings.

He often used irregularly shaped pieces of cardboard as a support and ground for his paintings and mixed media art.

The discovery of Alfred Wallis encouraged Nicholson and Wood to start their 'naive' vision which has become Cornwall's strongest and most celebrated artistic genre that is continued today in the Cornish paintings of John Dyerand Joanne Short.

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Ben Nicholson

Born in 1894 Died in 1982

Above: St Ives harbour by Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson lived in Cornwall From 1939 to 1958. Nicholson started the revolution in Cornish art and used the work of Alfred Wallis to establish his naive vision and famous artists' colony in St Ives. More Information

Many people disliked Nicholson's abstract paintings during the 1930s and 1940s when he was unable to make a living from selling them.

In 1940 Nicholson moved from London to St Ives, Cornwall, where he began to develop a new style that captured the nuances of nature's greys, browns, and greens that he found in the Cornish landscape.

In St Ives Nicholson met a fisherman and naive artist Alfred Wallis and this greatly influenced his paintings. Nicholson attracted other artists to move to St Ives, and the tiny fishing town soon became known as the St Ives Group and was the centre of modern art by the 1950s.

By the time Nicholson died in 1982, he was regarded as one of Britain's greatest painters, having introduced many innovative and exciting concepts about contemporary art to the world and all through the vision of naive Cornish art.

Christopher Wood

Born in 1901 Died in 1930

Above: Anemones in a Cornish Window by Christopher Wood

Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson met the fisherman painter Alfred Wallis and the encounter gave Wood the inspiration he needed to establish his own naïve style of work. Wood exhibited and painted in Brittany as well as Cornwall. Wood eventually threw himself under a train after he believed he was being followed by his mother and he died at a very early age but left a remarkable legacy with his paintings. More Information

Sir Terry Frost RA

Born in 1915 Died in 2003

Above: Blue and Yellow Squeeze. Oil and collage on canvas

Sir Terry Frost RA was one of Britain's most distinguished abstract painters Frost discovered his talent during the four years he spent as a Prisoner of War in the Second World War. On his return to England, he studied at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and was known in both London and Cornish art circles. He eventually moved to Newlyn in Cornwall and found inspiration in the colours and patterns in and around the harbour of Newlyn and St Ives. His work was often abstracted from nature and not totally abstract and this is what has given it such strength and longevity. More Information

Patrick Heron

Born in 1920 Died in 1999

Above: Azalea Garden © The estate of Patrick Heron

Patrick Heron was one of Cornwall's leading artists and was recognised as a leading artist of his generation. An abstract and figurative painter taking inspiration from the landscape of Cornwall. Heron was influenced by the work of Matisse and Braque. Heron lived and worked from Eagle's Nest, a house overlooking the wild Cornish coast near St Ives. More Information

Joan Gilchrest

Born in 1918 Died in 2008

Above: Visiting St Ives by Joan Gilchrest

Joan Gillchrest's vibrant, colourful and poetic paintings belong to the ongoing Cornish naïve tradition of painting. Gilchrest created her own unique style which was a product of design, tonal expression, atmosphere, and beautiful use of paint. She fused child-like innocence with highly sophisticated painting.

From the late 1950s, Joan Gilchrest, a naive artist, captured Cornwall's rugged Penwith peninsula with its fisherfolk at sea in all conditions, farmers eking out livings from clifftop smallholdings - and holidaymakers, enjoying beautiful beaches.

Joan Gillchrest's Cornish paintings now hang alongside other great artists from the St Ives School of Art from the 1960s. For a few years, painting was difficult for her as her then-spouse, artist Adrian Ryan, opposed her. "It was only after I kicked him out that I could do what I truly desired," she said.

Echos of Joan Gillchrest's paintings can be seen in the paintings of Fred Yates and John Dyer.

Jack Pender

Born in 1918 Died in 1998

Cornwall artist Jack Pender's subject matter was largely his home fishing village of Mousehole, its boats and its people. Aged 12, Pender had sat alongside Christopher Wood, watching him paint 'PZ134' and his work developed a direct and almost abstract quality. Pender is one of West Cornwall's most notable native talents.

"Joanne Short and I met Jack Pender in Mousehole in the pub one afternoon and as it happened we had just purchased a large original Cornish painting of Jack's depicting the shapes and abstract forms of Mousehole harbour. It was a delight to talk to Jack and to discuss Cornish art, colour and form and to hear how he 'prayed for artists like us and each new buyer' of his paintings so he could continue his art adventures. The very same day we met Jack and purchased his painting Joanne sold her first piece of Cornish art. A perfect day in Cornwall."

John Dyer

Fred Yates

Born in 1922 Died in 2008

Fred Yates grew up in a suburb of Manchester. He is untutored, but paints from the heart. Fred paints pictures from his surroundings, experiences and his past, with Manchester often appearing as a subject. For Fred beauty resided in 'simplicity and a child's mind' and in 1969 Fred gave up teaching and moved to Cornwall to enable him to devote all his energy to naive art and painting. Fred Yates lived his last years until 2008 in France.

"I knew Fred well and spent time with him painting and photographing his artistic process whilst a student. Fred would often visit the gallery and even start or complete oil and watercolour paintings in the kitchen above the gallery. it was a remarkable experience and one that I treasure. As it happened Joanne Short and myself also painted and found inspiration in the exact same part of France that Fred yates lived and painted. There is a resonance between Fred Yates art and the best cornish art being created today and keeping the 'simplicity of a child's mind' or a naive approach to painting is the key to all great Cornish art."

John Dyer

Bryan Pearce

Born in 1929 Died in 2007

Cornwall artist Bryan Pearce suffered from a rare condition Phenylketonuria, which affects the normal development of the brain. This meant his mother had to care for him throughout his life. He discovered a passion for painting and drawing with a drawing book in 1953 and he was then taken to Leonard Fuller’s class at the St. Ives School of Painting so that he could be ‘kept occupied’.

His regular walks around St Ives inspired his subject matter, unconsciously recording the town's changes. Bryan Pearce was a slow but consistent worker, producing only about twelve oil paintings a year. Often compared to Alfred Wallis, the late Peter Lanyon said "Because his sources are not seen with a passive eye, but are truly happenings, his painting is original."

Bryan Pearce is now recognised as one of Cornwall's great naïve artists.

"I had the pleasure of meeting Bryan Pearce in his St Ives studio in the 1990s and was fascinated by the way he meticulously and carefully worked on his paintings. It is an experience I will never forget. I love the Cornish paintings that Bryan made and I gain inspiration from his art every day."

John Dyer.

John Miller

Born in 1931 Died in 2002

John Miller was born in London in 1931 and started painting as a teenager. His first main career was as an architect and after a visit to West Cornwall in the mid-fifties he returned to live there in 1958. He was elected to the Newlyn Society of Artists in 1961 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1964.

A visit to the Isles of Scilly at the invitation of the Dorrien-Smith family led to the now-famous beach paintings, and after living at Sancreed for many years he painted from a house on the beach at Lelant where some of his most evocative paintings were done. John Miller also travelled widely and appeared on many TV programs and broadcasts.

Ted Dyer

Born 1940

Ted Dyer is one of the UK's best-known contemporary artists. His work is acclaimed internationally through his many exhibitions, prints, art cards and books. Ted Dyer's work documents his family life within the landscape. Ted Dyer's work is highly collectable and his original oil paintings are true modern classics, captivating in their choice of subject matter and beautiful use of paint. Ted Dyer is the father of artist John Dyer.

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Anthony Frost

Born 1951

Anthony Frost Painting

Anthony Frost, the son of artist Sir Terry Frost, was born in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1951 and is a well-known figure among Cornwall artists in West Cornwall and beyond. He operates from a studio near Penzance and is a prominent member of the art scene throughout West Cornwall and beyond.

Cornish artist Anthony Frost is known for his brightly coloured abstract mixed-media Cornish art pieces, which feature lines, triangles, and dots as recurring elements and a variety of materials (acrylic, hessian, sailcloth, string, and any other materials that happen to be available). Although each piece has some forethought, there is also a significant random element to his artist-based creative process.

"Anthony Frost is a wonderful character in Cornish art and I have led art workshops alongside him for children in the Penwith Gallery in St Ives. He is a natural optimist and his work is not only inspired by Cornwall but also through music. It was lovely working with him again to support Cornwall Mind in 2021 with our artworks."

John Dyer

Kurt Jackson

Born 1961

Cornwall artist Kurt Jackson is the best-known of the 'horizon painters' in Cornwall. Kurt's work is widely known and he is one of Cornwall's most prolific and commercially successful artists. Kurt has exhibited widely and his work has developed to include large-scale canvases. Like Cornwall artist John Dyer he is also well known for his environmental work and was also a resident artist alongside John Dyer at Eden's Live 8 Concert.

Joanne Short

Born 1967

Joanne Short is one of Cornwall's most established Cornwall artists & her paintings are truly unique in their style and construction. They bring to us a strong but gentle view of her world and focus on the beauty, pattern and life that is found in the landscape. She featured in the ITV series 'The Painted Garden' and many collectors marvelled at the way she confidently commits paint to her canvas en plein-air. Joanne Short is married to John Dyer.

Joanne Short's paintings echo the amazing naive art of Cornish artist Bryan Pearce and the paintings continue the Cornish genre of naive colourist art. The artist works on a coloured ground and without drawing paints directly onto the canvas working from the foreground elements to the background and finally floods the sky with a single colour of oil paint. This is Cornish art at its most exquisite and is admired the world over by collectors and art investors who wait in anticipation for each new canvas as it is released in The John Dyer Gallery.

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John Dyer

Born 1968

John Dyer is one of the UK's most exciting and well-known Plein-air painters and is one of the most famous contemporary Cornish artists. His work is collected internationally, and his paintings have been the subject of popular television programmes, educational projects, greeting cards, art prints and much more. John's environmental work studying the ethnobotanical relationships of plants with the Eden Project has firmly placed his work at the forefront of contemporary art. He is one of the UK's best-known international environmental artists painting the natural world. 

In the Cornish paintings by John Dyer, we can see a natural artist-based distillation of the tremendous naive genre of Cornish art that started with Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis. John Dyer's paintings are true modern classics that will undoubtedly be keenly collected and exhibited for years to come.

The major public retrospective of John Dyer's paintings at the acclaimed and award-winning Falmouth Art Gallery in 2019 and the accompanying coffee table book 'John Dyer - Painting the Colours of the World' on the artist's life and work propelled the artist to a new level of recognition

From a young age, John Dyer was fascinated by the Cornish landscape, and he is now considered one of Cornwall's most famous and best-loved contemporary Cornish painters and Cornish artists.

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