Arts and craft in Cornwall

On the trail of Cornish art


With nearly a third of the county designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, it is no surprise there is a wide and influential range of arts and craft in Cornwall. The area has a strong artistic heritage which can be seen in the galleries and studios available to visit in many of the beautiful harbour towns.

The Tate Gallery and Barbara Hepworth Museum make two very good starting points, but there are numerous courses and workshops available throughout the county as well as art trails and guides.

Tate St Ives

The exceptional clear quality of light in Cornwall coupled with the milder climate attracts many artists who like to be able to paint outdoors, or in ‘plein-air’. This technique became popularised in the Impressionist era of the mid nineteenth century and coincided with the connection of the railway line to Penzance. Artists could now benefit not only from the quality of landscape and light but from lower overheads. With stunning landscapes and access to the local fishing community for subject matter, Cornish artists now also had the ability to send works of art back by train for exhibition in London.

blue glass plates

Artists colonies sprung up in Newlyn, Lamorna and St Ives, with schools of painting and handicraft emerging throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The traditional reliance on fishing as a trade was seasonal and subject to periods of unemployment, and so the new craft industries became attractive occupations. Copper home-wares in the arts and crafts style were important exports from the area during the end of the nineteenth century and by 1920, the first internationally recognised pottery works had been established in St Ives.

Back Road Art Works

Attracting a new influx of artists by 1950, the Porthmeor Studios in the St Ives artists’ quarter, had become an international centre for abstract and avant-garde modernism. Undergoing renovation in recent years, the studios are now an important record of the local fishing and artistic heritage as well as a modern centre for artistic studies and courses. Similarly, both Newlyn and Lamorna host art schools, as well as yearly festivals. Museums and galleries can be found throughout the area and many artists have set up studios in old sail lofts or fishermen’s cottages which are open to the public and you’ll be assured of a warm welcome.

silver bowls

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