Sunday, 3 May 2015

My Cornish/New Zealand paintings

Early in the New Year I found myself in correspondence with an art historian in New Zealand.  This came about because of my brother-in-law's grandfather, Charles Hay-Campbell, one of whose paintings appears in my post of 9 February.  (I am afraid I do not know how to create a link to an earlier post!)  The art historian is Pamela Gerrish Nunn.  It turned out I had met her as she once gave a talk about the New Zealand artist, Frances Hodgkin, at the St Ives festival.  As a result of this I was aware that there were connections between New Zealand artists and the St Ives and Newlyn Schools at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Pamela published a paper: Between New Zealand and Newlyn: New Zealand Painters and Cornwall in the Summer 2014/15 issue of Art New Zealand in which she discusses the long tradition of New Zealand artists coming down here, sometimes just for short periods and in other cases for much longer.

My sisters and I have all inherited paintings done in this area by New Zealand artists.  The story goes that my great-grandfather, who was from Penzance, had 'a significant birthday '.  This might have been his seventieth in 1927 but possibly his eightieth in 1937.  An artist named Gwyneth Richardson had a short exhibition of watercolours of West Cornwall at a private gallery/dealer in Wellington early in 1928 so this sounds the most likely connection. The family decided to buy up several of the paintings so that each of the children could give him one.  My great-grandfather lived with my grandmother and her family after his wife died so we became very familiar with them as she had inherited four of them.

We had no idea what was being depicted, however, apart from one of St Michael's Mount.  In the course of time, my grandmother came to live next door to us and the paintings were on her walls.  Unfortunately the ultra-violet light n New Zealand is very strong and the St Michael's Mount painting has faded badly.  The one above is of Smeaton's Pier at St Ives.  I remember it being in my grandmother's drawing room when I was young and that room faced south (the equivalent of north in the northern hemisphere), so it did not fade.  It was many years before I knew it was St Ives, though.  My mother was very fond of these paintings and they went with her to the old people's home.  When she died we had the frames removed, brought the paintings 'back' to Cornwall and had the frames refitted.  I have two of them and one of my sisters has the other two, including St Michael's Mount.

My other one is of St Just, the last small town/village in England and the place where my great-grandfather was born.

The church is instantly recognizable in this, the mine shafts on the horizon less so because all the mines have now gone.  My sister has a small one of Kegwin's House in Mousehole and the St Michael's Mount one.

What do we know about Gwyenth Richardson?   Pamela was able to fill in some of the information for me.  She was born in Dunedin to an English father and a New Zealand mother.  Like most New Zealand artists at that time, she received her art education in England.  She and her whole family were living in London at the time of the 1911 census.  She paid a second visit in 1927 and studied for a short time at the Harvey-Proctor school in Newlyn.  It seems to me that this is probably when she did our paintings.  I was fascinated to learn that there were a lot of these little schools in both Newlyn/Penzance and St Ives but I am not surprised.  After all, artists have to pay the rent and there are still a number of them today. Gwyneth Richardson was never a famous artist and the paintings we have are not worth much, just 'sentimental value'.  She had a number of exhibitions and was included in the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in 1940.  She died in 1980.  I was able to find another couple of her English paintings on an art auction website but it appears there is not much written about her.

There is also another Cornish painting in our family.  My other sister has this.  It came from my father's family and is of seagulls perched on rocks at Lands End.  It is by an artist called Charles Worsley who was born in Christchurch but seems to have spent a lot of time in Europe. At least I always thought the painting was of Lands End but I had no proof of it.  I think this whole exercise points out how important it is to make a note of a painting's provenance!  My sister thought it was a New Zealand scene but when I looked up Charles Worsley the first painting I found was of Godrevy lighthouse at the entrance to St Ives Bay.  This is the lighthouse of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.  Although she set the book in Scotland, everyone knows it is based on St Ives and Godrevy.  The second Worsley painting I found on-line had a bland title but to anyone who knows this area, it is obviously of The Towans - the sand dunes that stretch from Godrevy to Hayle.  Charles Worsley was much more successful than Gwyneth Richardson but died relatively early in Italy.  He seemed to love travelling.