A history of cornwall online - through its objects


Fisherwomen and folk art

  • Dolly Pentreath

    Dolly Pentreath

    This portrait shows Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole. Dolly was a Cornish fishwife who gained the reputation of being the last native Cornish speaker, though opinion is divided. It was painted in the 1770s by John Opie, a fashionable portrait painter from Cornwall.

    Visit St Michaels Mount

  • Newlyn Copper Plaques

    Newlyn Copper Plaques

    From the 1880s until the 1920s a community of British artists existed in Newlyn. They worked with the local fishing community to create employment and artistic pieces from local copper. These copper plaques, representing Earth, Air, Water and Fire were installed on the outside of Newlyn Art Gallery.

    Visit Newlyn Art Gallery

  • Leach's Wheel

    Leach's Wheel

    Founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, the Leach Pottery in St Ives is probably the most famous and certainly the most influential studio pottery in the world.

    Visit Leach Pottery

  • Single Form

    Single Form

    Barbara Hepworth is internationally acclaimed as one of Britain's most influential sculptors and worked from her studio in St Ives from 1949 until her death in 1975. 'Single Form (September)', created in 1961, is a beautifully carved piece of polished walnut wood.

    Visit Tate St Ives

  • Along Shore Fishermen

    Along Shore Fishermen

    Charles Napier Hemy painted this picture in 1890 from sketches made on his floating studio off St Anthony Lighthouse. Hemy lived the last half of his working life in Falmouth and became a celebrated marine artist. He enlivened his pictures with a splash of colour - in this case the red hat.

    Visit Falmouth Art Gallery

  • Folk Art Plaque

    Folk Art Plaque

    This painted panel, in the style of folk art, was made by Captain Willie Hopes of St Hilary. It shows Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd and probably dates from the 1920s when St Hilary was nationally known for its Christmas Bethlehem play, broadcast annually on BBC radio.

    Visit St Hilary Heritage Centre

  • Fisherwoman on a Beach

    Fisherwoman on a Beach

    The artist Stanhope Forbes was a founder of the Newlyn School of painting, which changed the course of British art. This important study is an early preparatory work leading to his iconic painting, 'Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach' of 1885.

    Visit Penlee House Gallery and Museum

  • Opie's Paintbox

    Opie's Paintbox

    This mahogany paintbox belonged to renowned artist John Opie. He was born near St Agnes but left for London where his style of portrait painting soon became popular with the wealthy upper classes. In 1806, he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy.

    Visit St Agnes Museum

Cornwall’s natural beauty, especially its seascapes, has captured the minds and souls of artists for centuries.

Many artists moved to the Cornish coastal communities they found so fascinating from the late 19th century. The works they painted here made them internationally famous and shone a spotlight on places and people that were otherwise little understood outside Cornwall.

Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917), originally from Newcastle, moved to Falmouth in 1880. He often painted from his floating studio on the Fal. Along Shore Fishermen, which features the distinctive form of St Anthony’s Lighthouse at the mouth of the river, was completed in 1890.

Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947), born in Dublin, was a founder member of the Newlyn school of painters. His evocative works of fishing communities both revealed and romanticised the hard work and lifestyle of fishermen and women. Fisherwoman on a Beach was one of his first pictures of Newlyn, painted shortly after moving here with his artist wife Elizabeth in 1880.

Renowned for the quality of its natural light, St Ives fostered a modern art colony in the early to mid-20th century. Household names such as sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and studio potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979) became leaders in their fields. You can visit both their studios in St Ives today.

Cornish artists too made an impact on the international art world. John Opie (1761-1807) from Trevellas, dubbed the Cornish Wonder, was a highly accomplished portrait and historical painter. In 1805 he became Professor of the Royal Academy. Amongst his subjects were Dolly Pentreath, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the murder of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Big names, however, were not the only creators of beautiful art in Cornwall. Religious subjects were a significant inspiration for folk artists. With the support of local artists and patrons an industrial art school was set up in Newlyn in the 1890s to give unemployed boys and men a trade. They worked with copper to create stunning plaques, dishes and other decorative items that are now highly collectable.