The Newlyn School of Painters: A Brief Introduction
The "Newlyn School" was a group of artists living and working in the small town of Newlyn in the English county of Cornwall. Situated close to St Ives, they focused on everyday scenes from rural and coastal life.
Active in the late nineteenth century, Newlyn School artists adopted an Impressionistic style. Nonetheless, they combined this light-filled approach with somber themes and muted-color palettes.
To discover more about these pioneering Newlyn School painters, read on.
In this brief introduction, we explore the work of artists such as Harold Harvey and Henry Scott Tuke. We'll also consider two pioneers of the movement, Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes.
When did the Newlyn School start?
In 1877, the Great Western Railway expanded its railroad tracks to West Cornwall. As one of England's inaccessible spots, this opened the area for travel.
As a result, Cornish fishing towns such as Newlyn and St Ives attracted growing numbers of artists and tourists.
Attracted by the stunning quality of light and simplicity of life, these artists depicted beautiful natural scenery and the local people. The Newlyn School started in the early 1880s with the arrival of oil paintings by Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley.
Coastal Painting - Where is Newlyn?
Newlyn is a fishing village found next to the larger town of Penzance in the Penwith district of Cornwall. Located on the South Coast, Newlyn is still a seaside resort and fishing port today.
As well as fishing vessels, the village still hosts a variety of pleasure boats and yachts in the harbor. The importance of this maritime trade appears in many Newlyn school paintings. For instance, Harold Harvey's Unloading the Boats, Newlyn Harbor, and Stanhope Forbes's The Fishermen's Expedition foreground these beautiful working boats.
Despite this, artists working in Newlyn also depicted coastal tourism. For example, Harold Harvey's On the Sand portrays children playing on a pebbly beach. Similarly, Henry Scott Tuke's A Bathing Group (1914) shows two young men enjoying a dip in the shallow waters. This artwork is also one of the most famous nude paintings created by the group.
Famous Paintings of the Newlyn School
Artists working in the Newlyn School are famed for their spontaneous, alfresco approach. In addition, they followed the French Impressionist focus on "en plein air" outdoor painting.
This Impressionist inspiration meant Newlyn artists painted directly from their subjects (rather than in studio settings). Indeed, artworks such as Blackberry Gathering by Elizabeth Forbes (showing a mother and her children collecting fruit) show all the hallmarks of light, wind, and air.
Unsurprisingly for a fishing town, the working lives of fishermen were also common themes.
Newlyn artists also found inspiration indoors. At this time, the Cornish population lived relatively rural and straightforward lives, largely untouched by the industrial revolution happening in larger cities. Consequently, Newlyn artists painted local people in their homes, boat yards, and schools.
Paintings such as Stanhope Forbes' The Health of the Bride (1889) and Frank Bramley's A Hopeless Dawn (1888) exemplify these interior scenes. For social historians and art lovers alike, they supply a fascinating insight into Victorian Newlyn.
Stanhope Forbes - Father of the Newlyn School of Painters?
Stanhope Forbes, Walter Langley, and Frank Bramley led the group of Newlyn artists.
These men settled in the town in the early 1880s. They also encouraged further settlement and artistic exploration in the village.
Scholars generally describe Stanhope Forbes as the "father" of the Newlyn School of Painters. Alongside his wife (Elizabeth Forbes), Stanhope spearheaded a later group of Newlyn artists. They founded the Forbes School of Painting in 1899, focusing on coastal paintings, figurative artwork, and portrait oil paintings.
Despite the importance of Stanhope Forbes, Walter Langley (famed for his light-filled artworks) was also a central figure in the development of this art movement.
Which famous artists are part of the Newlyn School?
In addition to artists such as Stanhope Forbes, Frank Bramley, and Walter Langley, other Newlyn painters included Norman Garstin, Frederick Hall, and Edwin Harris.
The Newlyn School was notable for its female artists. Famous female artists include Elizabeth Forbes (wife of Stanhope), Marjorie Frances Bruford, Eleanor Hughes, and Caroline Gotch (alongside her partner Thomas Cooper Gotch). Dame Laura Knight (together with her husband, Harold Knight) also lived and worked in the area for a short time.
Two other married couples (Gertrude and Harold Harvey and Charles and Ruth Simpson) were also key members.
The artist Samuel John "Lamorna" Birch was also briefly associated with the Newlyn School. Nonetheless, he increasingly focused on another fishing village (Lamorna).
Other artists working with the Newlyn School soon followed his lead. However, by the early twentieth century, the group's focus expanded away from Newlyn, marking the movement's end.
Which art movements inspired the Newlyn School?
The Newlyn School is associated with an Impressionistic approach to rural Cornish life.
They also worked in a similar way to French Barbizon painters. Indeed, the Barbizon group similarly left the urban confines of Paris to focus on natural scenes and light. However, alongside American Impressionists and artists from the Hague School, these groups prioritized en plein air painting.
Many Newlyn School artists traveled to Brittany, reflecting the importance of French approaches. While they often relished the French countryside and its flat expanses of stunning countryside and coastlines, Cornwall had several advantages.
Without the need to travel abroad, Newlyn provided British artists with great natural light and cheap living expenses. In addition, many local people were available as artists' models. They charged low rates and gladly gave the artists insights into their lives and work.
As a result, many Newlyn paintings feature the more tragic aspects of fishing communities. These artworks depict wives anxiously gazing out to sea, waiting for boats to return. Paintings such as Walter Langley's Touch of a Vanished Hand (1888) are incredibly emotional. Similarly, Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break presents a young woman in tears, presumably hearing of a fishing disaster.
Founded in 2011, the present-day Newlyn School of Art continues these artists' mission of creative exploration. Focusing primarily on portraiture and landscape painting, the school hosts short courses and mentorship opportunities for artists visiting this beautiful Cornish village.
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