Cornish Art History
Famous Cornish Artists
Cornwall has a rich and diverse artistic heritage. One of the most important elements of Cornwall's history is the 'primitive' or 'naive art' work inspired by artists such as Alfred Wallis. This rich artistic strand is at the forefront of modern Cornish painting and many of our favourite artists belong to this school of art.
Naive, Colourist, Abstract and Landscape
Cornwall however is very diverse and it has artists exploring all areas of contemporary work through painting, sculpture, performance and site specific pieces. One of the very best art galleries in the county to exhibit all of the elements of art in Cornwall is Falmouth Art Gallery, who we work closely with, and most of the artists we have listed here have been included in exhibitions curated at the gallery.
"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
Cornwall's Artistic Timeline
The Who's Who of Cornish Art
Artists listed by date of birthAlfred Wallis
Born in 1855 Died 1942
Above: Three Ships and Lighthouse by Alfred Wallis
Alfred Wallis was a fisherman and mariner as well as an artist. Discovered in St Ives by 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 irregular shaped pieces of cardboard as a support and ground. The discovery of Alfred Wallis encouraged them start their 'naive' vision which has become one of Cornwall's strongest artistic traditions.
Born in 1894 Died 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
Born in 1901 Died 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 naive 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 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
Born in 1920 Died 1999
Above:Azalea Garden © The estate of Patrick Heron
Patrick Heron was one of Cornwall's leading artists and recognised as a leading artist for 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 to St Ives. More Information
Born in 1918 Died 2008
Above: Visiting St Ives by Joan Gillchrest
Joan Gillchrest's vibrant, colourful and poetic paintings belong to the ongoing Cornish naïve tradition of painting. Gillchrest 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.
Born in 1918 Died 1998
Jack Pender's subject-matter was largely his home fishing village of Mousehole, its boats and 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.
Born in 1922 Died 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 painting. Fred Yates lived his last years until 2008 in France.
Born in 1929 Died 2007
Bryan Pearce suffered from a rare condition Phenylketonuria, which affects the normal development of the brain. This ment 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 seen as one of Cornwall's great naive artists.
Born in 1931 Died 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 traveled widely and appeared on many TV programs and broadcasts.
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 chose of subject matter and beautiful use of paint. Ted Dyer is the father of artist John Dyer.
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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 the 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 is one of Cornwall's most established 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 marveled at the way she confidently commits paint to her canvas en plein-air. Joanne Short is married to John Dyer.
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John Dyer is one of the UK's most exciting and well known plein-air painters. His work is collected internationally and his paintings have been the subject of popular television programmes.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 and he is one of the UK's best known international environmental artists. "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.
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