Cornwall and Brittany have long had a close relationship, reflected in twinning of no fewer than 35 towns. Nowhere is this closeness more keenly felt than the far west of Cornwall, whose relationship with the equivalent area of Brittany – Cornouaille in Finistere – dates back to the prehistoric past and really came to the fore when art colonies developed in each area.
In celebration of these links, Penlee House Gallery & Museum has been working with the MusÃ©e DÃ©partemental Breton in Quimper to stage an exhibition that will be shown at both venues. Opening at Penlee House on 24 March, Another Cornwall / Gens de Cornouaille(s) focuses on the artistic links at the turn of the last century, between c.1880 and c.1930. During this period, the art colonies in St Ives and Newlyn were populated by artists who had come fresh from the parallel colonies in Brittany, to the extent that Stanhope Forbes famously described Newlyn as “a sort of English Concarneau”.
The influx of some of the greatest painters of their age into Brittany and West Cornwall meant that the lives of the indigenous communities in both places were captured for posterity. This selection of paintings shows not only how artists from the Breton and Cornish colonies produced similar work, but also how the lives of the local people on both sides of the Channel had much in common.
The exhibition includes works by some of the most renowned Newlyn School names, including Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, Albert Chevallier Tayler, Harold Harvey, Walter Langley and Frank Gascoigne Heath – though many of the works themselves may be new to Penlee visitors, being largely rarely shown Breton subjects. Alongside these are works by some of the leading French artists of their day, though their names are less familiar to a British audience: painters such as Henri Guinier, Alfred Guillou, Jean-Alexis Morin and Achille Granchi-Taylor.
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