Film looking at the art colony of St Ives in Cornwall, which became as important as Paris or London in the history of modernism during a creative period between the 1920s and 60s.
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Ancient and mysterious.
Romantic and remote.
Cornwall stands at the very edge of our world.
Yet it exerts a magnetic pull on our imaginations.
and crisis drew a string of great artists to this remote region.
In responding to each other and to the dramatic landscape, they went on
to produce some of the most exhilarating art of the 20th century.
The history of British painting and sculpture would be redefined
in this distant and forbidding place.
For it was in Cornwall that against all the odds, a small fishing village
was briefly transformed into an international centre of modern art.
And that fishing village was St Ives.
A series of extraordinary characters was brought together into this unlikely community.
Alfred Wallace, the luckless ancient mariner, wholly untutored in art.
And his disciple, the brilliant but doomed Christopher Wood.
Ben Nicholson, the formidable Svengali of the British avant-garde.
And his lover, Barbara Hepworth, who was the world's first great female sculptor.
And two Cornish sons, who would revolutionise the way we see both landscape and colour.
This film explores the work, lives and relationships of
the masters who most helped turn St Ives into a colony of modern art.
It's like a whole continent of colour.
It seems hard to believe, but for a few dazzling years, this place was as famous as Paris, as exciting
as New York, and infinitely more progressive than London.
So how did this actually happen, and why did it so tragically end?
This is an epic tale, filled with individual triumphs and disasters.
But together, it amounts to nothing less
than an alternative history of British art.
This is The Art Of Cornwall.
Cornwall is not a county, it is a country.
For most of its history, it was a desolate outpost at the edge of
England, a mysterious Celtic kingdom of tombs, tin mines and fishermen.
It boasted its own language, its own legal system, and until only
recently was considerably harder to get to than much of mainland Europe.
But it was the peculiar quality of the light in St Ives that first caught the world's attention.
It's been called the brightest place in Britain, and the reason for that
is simple - because the town is completely surrounded by sea, and that sea acts as a giant reflector,
bouncing the light back into the town.
And if that wasn't enough, there are miles of golden sand that only serve to intensify the effect.
It was the arrival of the railways in the 1850s that ended
Cornwall's age-old isolation, and first brought artists to its shores.
St Ives was an established artists' colony,
it really built up around the railway, which gave accessibility
to the capital, to the Royal Academy,
allowing it to become a colony in the late
19th century - and the fashion for harbours and fishermen as subjects.
The railways brought growing numbers of gentleman artists, all attracted
by the new talk, of a picturesque English Riviera, a paradise bathed in warm, Mediterranean light.
Over the following decades, these painters formed artists' colonies
along the Cornish coast and produced thousands of highly marketable paintings.
They depicted scenes of hardworking men and God-fearing women, together
enduring, with stoic fortitude, the trials of Cornish land and sea.
They appeared to offer a definitive and authentic image of Cornwall.
But this wasn't the real Cornwall, it was a fantasy, a make-believe world,
mawkish and patronising, a masterful piece of Victorian myth-making.
These painters achieved huge popularity in Victorian Britain, but the 20th century
would see a new group of radical artists come to Cornwall,
and they would change everything.
I'm an art historian at the University of Cambridge.
I first came here as a student harbouring an unhealthy teenage obsession with modern art.
And Cornwall seemed as far away from that as it was possible to get.
To me, its only association was of depressing family holidays in the rain.
But that all changed one afternoon when I discovered a little museum
just around the corner from my college.
Kettle's Yard is a quirky collection of pebbles, driftwood and pottery,
but scattered casually amongst those odds and ends are some masterpieces of modern art.
But when I first came here that afternoon, it wasn't these
modern masterpieces that captured my imagination - I was transfixed by something altogether less exotic.
I discovered the work of three unmistakably British artists,
who all shared a profound connection to Cornwall.
Modest, cardboard paintings of Cornish boats by Alfred Wallis.
Graceful and tasteful abstractions by Ben Nicholson.
And the quirky paintings of harbours by Christopher Wood.
The chance meeting of these three very different artists would transform the fortunes of St Ives,
and it was the ferocious ambition of the youngest of them that sets this story in motion.
Christopher, or Kit, Wood is one of the most glamorous and dissolute figures in British art.
And his short, explosive life, is the stuff that myths are made of.
At the age of just 19, this middle-class boy from Liverpool
made a staggering announcement to his family.
He was going to become the greatest painter the world had ever seen.
Kit had set himself a virtually impossible task.
He knew that if he was to have any chance of success, there was only one place in the world he could be.
Kit arrived in Paris in March 1921
with a suitcase in his hand and £14 in his pocket.
Beautiful and bisexual, he yearned for both artistic and social liberation.
His choice of time and place was perfect.
At that time, Paris was the epitome of everything modern -
it was open-minded, risque,
provocative, the complete opposite of buttoned-up, insular London.
And what's more, it had been the undisputed capital of the art world for generations.
It was in Paris that Matisse, Picasso and Brecht had
torn up and completely re-written the old artistic rules.
And it was in Paris that new, radical isms were pouring out
of cafes and bistros with every day that passed.
These revolutionary art forms were mechanistic, urban and angular,
and at first it seems difficult
to see how they could have any connection to Cornwall.
But bear with me, because if Paris offered anything, what it offered
was freedom, freedom from all the stifling academic rules and
conventions, freedom from official techniques and correct styles,
freedom in many ways from the past.
Paris proved that art could be done in a different way.
It wasn't just artistic freedom that Paris offered.
Kit was also sucked in to the dazzling social maelstrom
of the Parisian beau monde -
he even acquired a rich and well-connected playboy lover.
He would introduce Kit to some important people,
but it also introduced him to some very bad habits.
Kit's favourite bad habit was opium.
It became an addiction that would soon overshadow his life and his work.
Kit's letters home are a poignant record of his state of mind in Paris.
They reveal the first signs of a mental turmoil caused by the conflict between
his days at the easel and his nights with an opium pipe.
He writes here, "My brain is working too hard and I don't know where the end will come.
"I've worked very hard and produced nothing whatever to satisfy me."
Kit's misgivings were not shared by his peers.
Jean Cocteau called him the most talented painter he had ever met,
and a recommendation from Picasso secured him a dream job.
In February 1927, the Russian ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev asked Kit to design the scenery
for his new show, Romeo and Juliet, which premiered here at the Theatre Du Chatalet.
The collaboration, however, ended in disaster.
Diaghilev was not impressed by Kit's designs, and Kit was in no mood for compromise.
After a blazing row, he was sacked.
It was a pivotal moment for Kit, and in its own way, it was
a pivotal moment for St Ives and Cornwall, too.
He'd learnt everything he could learn from Paris - now what
he had to do was take these ideas and find fresh inspiration, and that inspiration would be Cornwall.
Cornwall was in Kit's blood.
His mother was Cornish and he instantly developed a deep sense of belonging to the place.
The region's rugged landscape stirred his overactive imagination.
As soon as he arrived he wrote, "If I am here long enough, I'm going to paint good things."
Kit had also found a friend and ally in Ben Nicholson, a man who had
spent much of the 1920s bringing the spirit of Paris to Britain.
In the summer of 1928,
Kit joined Nicholson on a weekend trip to Cornwall.
He'd actually come down to Falmouth for a house party,
but the following day, he convinced Nicholson to drive to the town of St Ives for a sketching trip.
On Sunday 26th August, the two men arrived in St Ives.
They made their way to Porthmeor Beach.
This is Kit's painting of the scene.
In the evening, they packed up their materials and set off for home.
They were strolling happily back into town when something caught their eye.
The front door of this little cottage was open, so they knocked and peeked inside.
Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw.
There were pictures hanging on the walls, piled on the floors, stacked
chaotically against the chairs,
and in the middle of them all was a little old man, painting.
His name was Alfred Wallis, a 73-year-old ex-fisherman.
And in the pictures around him,
Kit and Ben instantly recognised a powerful and uncorrupted vision.
This art seemed as radical as anything they had seen in Paris.
The encounter with Alfred Wallis as this
genuine exemplar of authentic artistic expression, untrained,
unsullied by academicism, is really crucial.
He's symbolic at that time as a genuine,
what's seen as a genuinely naive artist.
While Ben returned to London to spread word of their discovery,
Kit stayed on in St Ives for the autumn,
renting a cottage across the road from Alfred's home.
It seemed he had finally found the inspiration for which he'd been searching.
Here's a guy who'd been in Paris, he'd been mixing with
all the greatest artistic figures in the world - mixing with Picasso, Cocteau, Stravinsky,
Diaghilev, and yet none of that really seemed to count for anything.
What actually inspired him was this place, it was Cornwall, and it was little old Alfred Wallis.
I think somehow
Wood finds in Wallis, erm...
The subject matter, the slightly awkward space and detailing of
the paintings, the creaminess of the paint, he gets from Wallis.
But I wonder if there's also not a certain kind of English landscape,
an English spirit that Wallis kind of opens up for Wood.
Kit visited Wallis every day,
and the old man's influence was soon apparent.
Scenes of metropolitan life were replaced by more vivid depictions of life by the sea.
The dreams of the young man who'd set out to be the world's greatest painter were bearing fruit.
But Kit Wood was losing his mind.
His addiction to opium had intensified.
He started hallucinating.
He became paranoid.
Opium was driving him to the edge.
His inner torment was reflected
in the sinister quality of his last works.
On 21st August 1930,
an exhausted Kit met his mother for lunch in Salisbury.
Then, in a fit of panic,
he threw himself under a train.
He was killed, at the age of 29.
Although he had only stayed there briefly,
Kit had shown that Cornwall could be a natural home for modern art.
He had introduced Ben Nicholson to St Ives, and together, they had
discovered the unique talent of Alfred Wallis.
During the 1930s, Wallis was transformed into something of
a cult figure, with his remarkable depictions of his seafaring past.
His paintings also recorded the demise of one of Cornwall's
oldest and most important industries.
This is Newlyn - it's pretty much all that's left of the Cornish fishing fleet.
But in Wallace's day, it was the hub of a huge and thriving industry,
and every harbour along this coast was packed with fishing boats.
This painting depicts the whole of Mount Spelley.
It shows things which we cannot see,
because it is painted from Wallis's memory.
Anyway, he's showing off, he's telling us
how much he does know about these things.
I know more than all those painters who've been trained!
Well, how much information he can tell us.
Wallis seemed to be painting almost from inside.
Being untrained, he was free of the conventions that other artists were confined by.
He was free from perspective and free from painting
just from observation. He painted from memory, he painted the knowledge that he had of these places.
And that makes it very special - his art...
Art was taking a new direction almost
because of that.
Wallis had spent 25 years chasing shoals of herring, mackerel
and pilchard across the Atlantic.
But in 1890,
he retired from the sea and moved to St Ives,
where he opened a marine supply store.
But in the mid-1920s, Alfred's wife died.
It was loneliness that drew him to paint.
Alfred Wallis didn't paint like any other artist in St Ives.
He didn't have enough money to buy materials, so he painted onto whatever he could find -
cardboard boxes, bits of driftwood,
railway timetables, even jam jars, and set about producing his own,
inimitable alternative to the work of what he called the real artists.
But the real artists
discerned rich layers of meaning in his deceptively simple pictures.
Here's an example. This is a painting of some cottages in St Ives.
You'll notice one of the cottages is much, much smaller than the others.
This isn't just bad perspective, it was supposed to be that way.
That cottage was lived in by Alfred's brother, and Alfred had just fallen out with him.
So by making the cottage really small, Alfred was getting his own artistic revenge on his sibling.
I just love it. All of Wallis's paintings - and there is
a whole wall full of them here - are filled with similarly rich and wonderful meanings.
And Kettle's Yard also have a letter that he wrote back in April 1935.
He writes here, "What I do mostly is what used to be, out of my own
"memory, what we may never see again, as things are altered altogether.
"There is nothing whatever do not look like what it was since I can remember."
What we realise from this letter is these paintings
are attempts by him to capture the only certainty he's got left.
He's painting the past.
Yet it was Ben Nicholson who would now shape the art of the future.
In the auction houses, salons and galleries of London, he set about shaking up
the Britain's conservative art establishment forever.
Lot 47 is by Ben Nicholson. 54. 56.
I've got £56,000. On my left for 58.
On my right at £58,000.
Nicholson was a brilliant and energetic
evangelist for the techniques and ideals of European modernism.
He was determined to drag British art into the 20th century.
And he wasn't going to do it alone.
In 1931 he attended a bohemian house party in Norfolk.
Another guest was a gifted young sculptor from Yorkshire, Barbara Hepworth.
And although both were married, they began a passionate love affair.
From the moment she met Ben Nicholson, Barbara
abandoned her figurative style and converted to Ben's Modernist cause.
Ben soon moved into Barbara's North London studio
and the two artists found they worked harmoniously together.
However, in their austere abstractions,
they were still ploughing a lonely furrow in British art.
But political crisis abroad would change all that.
I realise this is not our conventional image of a refugee camp,
but in the 1930s, that is what London,
and in particular Hampstead, became. With every month that passed,
more of Europe's persecuted avant garde
made their way to this genteel and leafy suburb.
And they briefly transformed it into the intellectual and artistic centre of the world.
Sigmund Freud, the great Austrian psychoanalyst, ended up here.
Ernst Gombrich, who wrote the only art book people ever actually read, lived here.
A Hungarian architect, Erno Goldfinger, designed this house for himself in Willow Road.
His neighbour, Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was not impressed,
and this was the result.
Dutch abstract painter, Piet Mondrian,
settled here at Parkhill Road.
And the revolutionary Russian sculptor, Naum Gabo, wound up here.
But the hub of the community was this block of flats -
the Isokon building.
The Isokon was the first major modernist building in Britain,
and its style and motifs were inspired by Ben's minimalist art.
This must have been such a great place to live.
No-one could have been more pleased to see these new arrivals than Ben,
who had spent years tirelessly forging links with his artistic heroes abroad.
And now Adolf Hitler had delivered them right to his doorstep.
The Isokon's basement bar now became
the unofficial headquarters of London's free-thinking refugees.
And their presence helped Ben and Barbara, whose studio was just around the corner,
to establish themselves as the dynamic duo of British modernism.
In 1936, their ambition paid off.
They organised the first ever exhibition of abstract art in Britain.
The show was a sensation.
It featured new work by Ben and Barbara,
but set in an international context.
Alongside works by Piet Mondrian and Naum Gabo.
The works around us represent a moment of British art,
the high point in a way of that '30s movement to engage
both with abstract values in art and in other things,
with spirituality and higher ideals, and also with international artists.
It's the focal point, if you like, of an international utopian movement of artists.
Ben's contribution was a spare white relief.
It was the most audacious and controversial work in the show.
There have been so many interpretations of this work.
It's been called a protest against the Nazis, a celebration of hygiene
and even a manifesto of Christian Science.
But I think it's all about Cornwall.
Those whitewashed walls in St Ives shining in that pure Cornish light.
There's even something of the Alfred Wallis about it,
because Ben Nicholson made this out of a mahogany dining-table he found in Camden Market
and brought home with him on the number 24 bus.
Wallis would have been proud.
By 1939, London had been transformed,
and it was now challenging Paris at the top table of modern art.
And this was in no small part due to Ben Nicholson's talent for networking.
But now the very factors that brought this community together conspired to tear it apart.
By the summer of 1939, war was imminent.
Ben Nicholson wanted to stay in London and keep his beloved modernist colony alive.
But Barbara and he were now married with triplets.
And they knew that, for their family to be safe,
they had to get as far away from the capital as possible.
Barbara suggested Norfolk and, momentarily, the future of British modern art hung in the balance.
But Ben knew exactly where he would take them.
He would take them to Cornwall.
On 25th August, 1939, Ben, Barbara and their three young children
squeezed into their car and left their Hampstead home.
As they turned this corner, they saw Mondrian standing in the street.
They pleaded with him to jump in and escape with them to the countryside,
but Mondrian hated the countryside, he couldn't even stand the colour green.
So they waved him goodbye and left London forever.
I can't imagine what a terrible journey it must have been.
I think Ben and Barbara knew that, with every mile that passed,
the life they'd so painstakingly built for themselves in London had disappeared behind them.
They had arranged to stay in Carbis Bay, a dowdy suburb of St Ives.
And they had arrived here at precisely the same time as a massive thunderstorm.
It continued to rain for six days and six nights
and Barbara wrote that Cornwall was sheer unmitigated hell.
Ben at least could work.
Within minutes of arriving, he had disappeared into a quiet room,
locked the door behind him and started to draw.
But she was left to look after the children, clean the house and prepare the meals.
In a schedule like that, she didn't have much time for high-minded abstraction.
It wasn't glamorous, I'll grant you,
but despite all the miseries and the hardships and anxieties,
the outbreak of war in 1939 had brought two of the world's most radical artists to Cornwall.
And I really think that, if there was any turning point in the art of St Ives, this was it.
With Nicholson and Hepworth's arrival,
a new outpost of international modernism had been formed here
and that outpost was about to get bigger.
Two weeks later, another modernist stepped gingerly off the train from London.
Gabo was a giant of the European avant garde.
He had participated in the Russian Revolution in 1917
and had also reinvented the history of sculpture
with his painstaking and high-tech constructions.
Gabo had lived and worked in every major European capital
and had even taught at the Bauhaus.
But he was doubly at risk from the Nazis, being both Jewish
and, as a modernist, regarded as a degenerate artist.
In 1936, he had fled to Britain and was warmly welcomed into Ben's Hampstead clique.
By following him to Cornwall, he would be laying another
foundation stone for this new, modernist colony.
Gabo was an even more unlikely presence in Cornwall than Nicholson and Hepworth.
And I still can't get my head around the thought of this exotic
Russian genius, a man who'd led the revolutionary avant gardes in Moscow, Berlin and Paris,
of him ending up in this rather nondescript house in Carbis Bay.
It's like stumbling across Michelangelo doing his weekly shop in Tesco's.
He cut an unlikely figure in wartime Cornwall,
walking his white samoyed dog along the beach.
He never lost his heavy Russian accent.
And, when war finally broke out, he was obliged to register as an alien.
Gabo was used to crisis. It seemed to follow him wherever he went.
By 1939, he'd had the singular misfortune to have lived through four major wars and revolutions.
But he must never have felt more of a fish out of water than here.
War changes everything for everybody.
I think that the Second World War is the absolutely crucial thing of trying to understand
the art of St Ives and the phenomenon of the colony.
Not only would Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo not have gone there but for the war,
but I think, um...
it's a place where they, um... changed their ideas,
the utopianism of the 1930s becomes refocused on ideas of community.
Gabo did what he could for the British war effort.
He and Ben Nicholson formed undoubtedly Cornwall's most ineffectual air raid unit.
The two men - one short and plump, the other tall and gangly - patrolled the streets of Carbis Bay.
But they spent more time admiring the local pebbles than scrutinising the skies for German bombers.
The war distressed Gabo profoundly.
But he didn't lose faith in his art.
On the contrary,
he grew convinced that it was more important than ever.
His sculptures had always been inspired by a brave new world of technology,
and faith in a brave new world was never more needed than now.
But Cornwall cast its spell on Gabo.
His daily walks by the sea changed his work.
The waves curling onto the sand, the wind spiralling in from the ocean.
The sails and rigging of boats, the curves of shells and pebbles.
All of these elements are present in his Cornish constructions.
This is one of Gabo's wartime masterpieces.
It's so delicate, I feel that, if I even speak too loudly, it will fall apart.
If anything demonstrates the unique power of Cornwall, this is it.
Gabo once left one of these in a taxi.
When he called them up, they asked him what he'd lost.
He replied, "A construction in space."
And that's exactly what these are.
The cutting edge materials Gabo liked to work with were hard to come by in wartime Cornwall.
But he managed to get the British chemicals giant ICI
to send experimental new plastics down to him in St Ives.
Gabo clearly found Cornwall a difficult place to work.
But this didn't stop him falling in love with it.
When he couldn't get hold of his plastics, he collected
pebbles from the beach and filed them into elemental abstract forms.
Each day, his walk took him past the door of Alfred Wallis' cottage.
Alfred, now well into his 80s, was not well.
He grew convinced that the devil was living upstairs in his bedroom.
and was often heard screaming through the night.
His Victorian upbringing had left him with an intense fear
of ending his days in the forbidding workhouse at Madron.
But that is now where he was sent.
What strikes me about this place is, when Wallis came here,
he was actually something of an artistic celebrity.
His pictures were being bought and sold in London galleries.
He was being written about in journals and magazines.
Yet somehow, in the final analysis, that seemed to count for nothing, because he still ended up here.
Just a few months later, Alfred Wallis was dead.
Preparations had been made to bury him in a pauper's grave in Barnoon Cemetery.
But once the news reached his friends in St Ives, a proper ceremony was organised.
I'm sure Wallis would've been proud to have admirers
like Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo at his funeral.
Prouder still to have a tomb made specially for him
by the master potter Bernard Leach.
These stoneware tiles are really very beautiful indeed.
Actually, it's very moving as well. You've got this tiny little figure
of Wallis with the enormous lighthouse above him,
and these great big waves crashing all around. And underneath,
"Into Thy hands, O Lord".
There's a very moving letter from Ben Nicholson
to his friend Jim Ede on the day of Alfred Wallis's funeral,
when he contrasts the funeral and Wallis,
the sort of timeless old man, with a German aircraft
which has just shot up the High Street in St Ives,
and then concludes by saying, "The war has made one more aware of the community one lives in."
And I think that's really important - the artists' involvement in the place they live in,
in the small town, and as a community of artists, is really crucial.
The war years were hard for Barbara Hepworth too.
At first, she found it impossible to do any work.
She had no materials and precious little time.
She drew at night, but her days were spent looking after the family.
She supplemented their rations with salad picked in the hedgerows and mushrooms collected in the fields.
As the triplets grew, she made more time for her art.
And when the work did begin, Cornwall was there too.
Most people think of Barbara Hepworth's sculpture as abstract, but it's anything but.
Take this work, for instance, Pelagos,
one of her most famous works from her St Ives period.
Barbara said that this wasn't abstract at all, it was actually a landscape of Cornwall.
Those curving forms here, what those actually represent
is the curve of the whole bay of St Ives.
The white here in the middle is the white of the beach of Carbis Bay.
The stringing is the lines of wind and waves coming from the Atlantic.
So what she's actually done is taken this whole enormous bay of St Ives,
made it smaller, tilted it up, and turned it into a sculpture.
Barbara may have started with the view from her kitchen window,
but as she got to know her new home better, she began to find inspiration everywhere.
The moorland along the coast from St Ives is littered with the traces of an ancient and forgotten past.
On any walk here, you'll come across countless prehistoric standing stones, and odd creations like this,
Lanyon Quoit, whose original function is no longer known.
Although Barbara didn't choose to come to Cornwall, this landscape soon started to claim her.
She began to feel a profound connection to the place.
She said she felt through her feet its geological shape.
The rich minerals from which Cornwall was made
were apparent on the very surface of things.
Half a mile away is another group, Men-an-Tol.
The meaning of these objects is a mystery.
And it was the mystery that appealed to her.
These stones are thousands of years old,
but Hepworth appropriated their forms
and reinvented them for the modern movement.
The Cornish landscape was also infiltrating the imagination of her husband Ben.
"I always thought the stories were overdone," he wrote to a friend,
"The drama and the terrific, intense colour, but the real thing has been so much more."
Bit by bit, Cornwall seduced the evangelical obstructionist.
He started painting the landscape.
He tried to resist.
He exude his behaviour as "an economic necessity".
He had a family to feed
and no-one would buy abstract pictures during the war.
He made it plain that these works were not to be regarded
as significant in the way his abstracts were.
But his protests were in vain -
Cornwall had forced its way into his work.
Ben's transition from those geometric white abstractions to
his lush wartime landscapes reveals an extraordinary artistic journey.
In 1945, the Second World War finally ended.
Ben celebrated the event in his own whimsical fashion.
This painting had been languishing unfinished in Nicholson's studio
for two years when the Nazis surrendered in May 1945.
On hearing the news, Ben added
his own distinctive version of a Union flag to the corner here.
It's since become a seminal image, but it's difficult to believe
the same man who, 10 years earlier, was painting austere white reliefs
was now painting a charming collection of crockery.
It's a testament to how Cornwall had humanised Ben.
I think that great internationalist would hate me for saying this,
but also how it brought out the Britishness in him.
Barbara assumed the end of the war would mean a return to normal family life in London.
Ben spent a trial period in the capital
and, in 1946, Naum Gabo took the first ship out to New York.
St Ives' days as a centre of modern art appeared to be numbered,
but Ben came back to St Ives, saying he needed to see the sky.
Against all the odds, Ben and Barbara decided to stay.
The continued presence of these two celebrities soon attracted
hundreds of painters and sculptors, all yearning for creative freedom.
A wave of young artists now poured into St Ives
and, within just months, the town's empty pubs, cottages and studios
were overrun with a new generation of creatives, who had come
to the edge of England to rebuild their war-torn lives and rebuild them with art.
The end of the war, there's a desire,
there's a need amongst artists, as there had been after the First World War,
to return to nature, to return to a simpler way of life.
Cornwall has a tradition of being a place of escape.
It's a place associated with childhood, with romance,
with the dark spiritualism of the moors.
But always something, um, anti-metropolitan, anti-modern,
simple and basic and timeless.
I think, for different reasons, the artists tap in to aspects of that.
A new, bohemian mood now swept through the town.
This community would draw in artists from all walks of life.
Perhaps the most remarkable of them
was a working-class lad from the Midlands
who had only just been released from a prisoner-of-war camp.
Terry Frost later recalled the heady excitement of his journey west in 1946.
Well, I first came down here on the recommendation of an old friend of mine, Adrian Heath.
And I said, "Well, you know, I can't get on very well at home, painting, because they expect me to work,
"because that's what I've always done - work in the sense of going to the factory.
"And painting was a daft, sissy thing to be doing."
So I said, "I've got to get a long way away.
So he said, "St Ives is a good place," he said, "They've got a lot of artists down there, or Newlyn."
And I looked at a map - of course I'd never been far in my life,
except in the army - and I realised, it was, 290 miles away, just the spot.
So I came down.
The liberation for Frost is extraordinary.
Here's a man who's grown up expecting to work in factories
or in engineering of some sort in the Midlands, who's then spent much of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp,
where he encounters this "art" for the first time.
And so the decision, I think, the realisation that the world is different,
that he's not going to get back to what was expected of him in 1939, is really crucial.
And that sort of anti-establishmentarianism becomes very important for him.
It was an ambitious move - Terry had a wife and six children to provide for.
And when he wasn't painting, he worked as a waiter and a barman.
The family squeezed into this tiny cottage by the quay,
and though conditions were cramped, they resulted in a seminal painting.
Walk Along The Quay is one of your father's most famous art works,
and one of the most famous paintings to come out of St Ives -
what actually led to it happening?
Well, it's an interesting story,
because we used to live at 12 Quay Street,
just round the corner, up there.
And it's a practical reason, that my father had to come out every day,
because there were eight of us, six children, and we used to all cry.
He'd go on a walk along the quay,
with, you know, one of us in the pram and holding one by hand
So he'd be down this quay every day,
and he'd be looking at these boats, with the wonderful masts and sails, bobbing about.
Usually, if the tide's in, then they're moving around,
so you've got the mast going up and down, and side to side, all the angles.
What my dad wanted to do, he suddenly realised that he wanted to capture the whole walk in the painting.
I went back home, and I happened to have a stretcher,
a long one, that I'd made up.
And it was just simple, I thought, "Well, that's it.
"I've got to walk up that canvas, because that's the same shape as the harbour, or as the quay."
So I walked up that canvas, and I just put all those shapes in, and colours, that I'd seen.
And that's the Walk Along The Quay which is owned by Adrian Heath.
And that was a sort of time painting, really.
-It was a bit before its time, because I really got through to something
And there's a story about when Ben Nicholson first saw that painting,
that he stood in front of it for two hours, in silence.
Yes, that's quite right - he said, "You're on to something here,
which is quite true, because he said, "This will probably last you the rest of your life."
And in a crazy way, it did, yes. It went full circle,
-he almost came back to that sort of painting, those shapes.
Terry may have been on to something, but he still wasn't earning a living as a painter.
In 1951, Ben intervened and got him a part-time job as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth.
She was not, by all accounts, an easy employer.
Barbara didn't want people to know she even had assistants.
Whenever visitors arrived, she'd ring a little bell,
and on hearing it, her staff obediently dropped their tools
and hid in this shed until the coast was clear.
On one occasion, the wait proved too much for Terry, and he began to feel nature calling.
He held it in as long as he could, but eventually decided to relieve himself into a geranium pot.
Everything seemed to have gone to plan - that was until Terry noticed a stream of urine running
from out the pot, under the door, down the garden path and right to the feet of Barbara and her guests.
Terry was banned from having biscuits for the rest of the week.
The first years of peace saw a surge in demand for culture
from a public who had been starved of it during the war.
Both Ben and Barbara found a ready market for their work,
and their new success meant they needed separate studios.
In 1949, Barbara Hepworth took over this studio.
It was to become her home for the rest of her life.
In the same year, Ben also found a new workspace -
in one of the old fishermen's lofts by Porthmeor Beach.
This is Ben Nicholson's studio, and he moved here in 1949.
And the space instantly inspired him, and coming in here now I can completely see how,
because, not only is it an enormous white space, that enabled him
to produce all these big paintings, but the key thing for him
was that it didn't have a view of the sea, like all of the other studios did in this complex.
It just had this enormous great skylight above him,
that created this very intense but consistent white light.
He loved it here and he used to have a ritual where every morning he'd come in,
he'd switch on his little radio and listen to jazz to drown out the sound of the sea.
But initially it was Barbara who found international fame,
representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1950,
and hogging the limelight a year later at the Festival of Britain.
The Festival of Britain was a blueprint for the world of tomorrow
and the nation's artists were all asked to contribute.
None, however, had quite the impact of Barbara's monumental work Contrapuntal Forms.
At three metres in height, it was the most ambitious thing she had ever made,
and for the Festival's duration, it became THE place
for photo-opportunities, rendezvous and ice-cream breaks.
It seemed that Britain was finally ready for modernism, and it looked to Cornwall to supply it.
Barbara was surfing this national mood of optimism,
and everyone was pleased - well, almost everyone.
Ben Nicholson was notoriously competitive,
and he liked nothing better in life
than beating his friends at table tennis.
And he was infamous for changing the rules midway through matches if things weren't going his way.
So you can imagine how he felt about his wife becoming suddenly more successful than him.
He was insanely jealous.
Spurred on by this, the mid-1950s became a prolific period for Ben, too.
He exhibited around the world.
His work was snapped up by the best museums, and he won virtually every international prize going.
Critics even dubbed him the British Picasso.
If you wanted to understand Picasso's paintings, you might go to a bull fight.
But if you wanted to understand Ben Nicholson's work, you would go to a golf course.
Nicholson felt that to be a good artist, you first and foremost had to be able to draw.
And all the skills you needed to draw well - confidence,
grace and economy of movement - all of these were contained within the simple swing of a golf club.
There was the elegant parabola described by the ball in flight, like a line on paper.
You had to be constantly aware of the light, colour and rhythm of the world around you.
And then, of course, there was texture - the interplay of rough and smooth, concave and convex,
the curve of the fairway, the treacherous slope into the bunker.
You'd have to have a good eye and good touch.
There was so much about golf that appealed to Ben.
He felt immediately at home playing a game with such a rigid and exacting set of rules,
and it gave him a much-needed break from the family home.
By now he wasn't just jealous of Barbara, he was bored of her, too.
Complaining that she put stones before people,
he started an affair with a young woman he'd met on the golf course.
The break with Ben was the most traumatic event in Barbara's life.
Despite his behaviour towards her, she still looked up to him,
and sought his good opinion about her work.
But now, having been deserted by the love of her life,
her relationship with Cornwall grew stronger.
It took a long time for me to find my own personal way of making sculpture,
a long time to discover the purest forms which would exactly evoke my own sensations,
and to visualise images which would express the timelessness of primitive forces, which I felt,
and the constant urges towards survival and growth.
This is Hepworth's workshop, and being here, surrounded by all these bits of metal and stone and tools,
and even unfinished sculptures, makes so clear how unique her achievement actually was.
Sculpture is such a masculine profession,
and yet by sheer creativity, skill and gritty determination,
she had become as successful as any male artist.
It may be that the sensation of being a woman presents another emphasis in art,
and particularly in terms of sculpture,
for there is a whole range of perception belonging to feminine experience.
So many ideas spring from an inside response to form.
The scale of Barbara's sculptures grew exponentially.
They almost overwhelmed the capacity of her studio and the narrow streets around it.
She created a series of colossal works, like Winged Figure,
destined for the new John Lewis store in Oxford Street.
I found her a marvellous person, she had an incredible brain.
I mean, she really, really, really knew what she was doing,
and she really, really was a very intelligent person.
And I got an enormous amount out of working for her.
Here was really a tremendous, you know, a genius.
And you really got an understanding,
which was great for me as a young man...
what it takes, what you really, really have to do to be an artist,
that it's a 24-hour job, and not too much should stand in the way.
You have to do what's in front of you.
Ben and Barbara's marriage was over.
But although they lived separate lives and worked in separate studios,
they still dominated the flourishing art community in St Ives like a king and queen.
But they ruled in very different ways.
Ben was always impeccably dressed, and marched through the narrow streets like he owned them.
To avoid being trapped in conversations with the locals, he bounced a ball as he went.
And if anyone actually approached him, he'd raise an imperious hand,
shout, "working!", and march briskly on.
Barbara, however, was the invisible monarch.
She hardly ever left her secluded palace, preferring to survey her dominion from on high.
And while Ben ruled through arrogance, Barbara ruled through fear.
Many locals called her the Witch of St Ives,
and rumours even circulated that the statues in her gardens were actually her ossified victims.
# ..Freedom, liberty and stuff like that... #
But Ben and Barbara's dominion would not go unchallenged.
As the 1950s unfolded, this new generation would fight them for supremacy.
The chief pretender to their throne was Peter Lanyon.
Mercurial, passionate and rebellious, Lanyon saw himself
as the true artistic leader of his own land.
Lanyon was born and bred in St Ives.
During the war he had served overseas as an RAF mechanic,
but had returned with burning ambition,
both for his art and his homeland.
Lanyon, I think, is a really complex character,
because, at the end of the war, it is undoubtedly crucial to his art,
this recognition of the importance to him of his identity as a Cornishman,
his association with this place, with the landscape around St Ives,
which he knows intimately.
Lanyon was prepared to turn the world upside down in his relentless search for the real Cornwall,
the Cornwall only a native could understand.
Lanyon decided there was only one way to make a proper landscape painting.
It was simple, you had to get out of doors, let go of your inhibitions
and experience the countryside in every possible way.
You'd have to get right to the edge of a cliff, until you're sick with vertigo.
You'd have to get as close to nature as possible.
Sometimes you had to get wet!
You'd have to go rock-climbing.
You'd have to run up a hill and catch the view by surprise.
Now this all might seem a bit childish, but it's central to Lanyon's artistic philosophy.
Because Lanyon isn't trying to paint what Cornwall looks like, he's trying to paint what it feels like.
With these complicated images now
of underwater coast and landscape, sky and so on like that,
I have so many things being introduced,
that either I'm letting myself into a mad house, or I shall solve it.
One never knows as a painter, cos you throw yourself off the cliff every time you start,
and you've got to fly or swim or duck or something, and come out the other end.
Lanyon's risk-taking rebelliousness didn't just result in great art.
In the years after the war, it also motivated violent infighting among the artists of St Ives.
In February 1949, St Ives' large artistic community
held a packed and noisy meeting here at the Castle Inn.
They founded a new exhibiting society, with bold and democratic aims.
But Ben and Barbara were still running the show.
They proposed dividing the membership into three categories -
A - abstract, B - figurative and C - craftsmen.
They were all starting up showing at Penwith Galleries,
and there was this big thing of, are you in Category A,
or are you in a Category B?
There were falling-outs, and people did almost punch each other in those days over it, you know.
And it was big stuff, because you were moving into the world of abstract painting.
People would have fights about the kind of paintings they made.
I'm not saying, "Bring them back", but the idea
that you could actually thump somebody cos they made an abstract painting,
and they might thump you because you made a figurative one, I think is...
It's extraordinary, isn't it, for a little Cornish town?
I think there was a lot of alcohol there, that kind of explains it!
Peter Lanyon did fall out with the rest, like Dad and other people,
over the fact that you had Category A and Category B,
because I think Peter didn't want any categories, he just wanted it to be straight.
He'd gone to war to fight fascism and here it was on his doorstep. He disliked their stranglehold.
He used to work for Barbara for a bit, so he'd go into the studio.
Or, erm, with Ben, you see, he knew Ben.
So in a sense, they were the sacred cows,
and this was very important, that he could,
with his rebellious nature, actually be inspired by their awfulness
to do scurrilous things, and that was very much a part of his art.
He was restless, and always finding a new way of painting.
In 1950, he has this important split from Nicholson and Hepworth,
and he, in his mind and in his writing, he combines that with a change in direction in his art,
and he talks about his art becoming more concerned with actual places.
And he talks about place, not just about landscape.
Place, for him, combines a certain location with its social history,
with its population, with its past activities.
So he goes to fishing villages, he goes to the farming country outside St Ives, and, crucially,
he goes along the coast west of St Ives, which is a mining district,
and he makes these paintings which, for him, explore the associations of that place,
the political history of Cornwall.
But, crucially, he makes paintings which can stand alongside the best paintings made anywhere in the world.
One morning in 1951, Lanyon packed a bag
and set off on a gruelling and emotional pilgrimage to the hidden heart of Cornwall.
And I'm going to follow in his footsteps.
Leaving St Ives heading west, his path crossed the remote moors of Zennor,
the inhospitable region of ancient remains that had so inspired Barbara Hepworth before him.
But while she was exploring an exotic country, Lanyon felt he was coming home.
Because he had it in his bones, erm, he knew stuff.
You don't know that there are people under the ground actually hacking out metal,
and you don't know what it's like to be, erm, a fisherman.
It's those kinds of experiences that made him paint.
He felt that he was the host, having been born here and having been completely Cornish.
He was more a St Ives local than Wallace was. Wallace was an outsider.
For me, the painter is a kind of beachcomber.
I live in a country which has been changed by man over many centuries of civilisation.
It's impossible for me to make a painting which has no reference
to the very powerful environment in which I live.
I have to refer back continually to what is under my feet,
to what is over my back, and to what I see in front of me.
When Peter Lanyon was here, this was a working mine.
In those days there were 300 people working here,
and people who weren't working here were working underground, beneath us.
Probably Cornwall was one of the first post-industrial landscapes in Europe, really.
When I first came here, when the mines were still working,
they were leaching into the sea and there was a red tide every day.
-Around the coast, there was this red, pink, frothy tide.
All around this part of the coast.
And what's gives Lanyon his punch, from my point of view,
is that he's referring to something out there in the real world.
The mine is extinct now.
The land has been hacked about and plundered by miners searching for tin.
The cliff is still tinted with iron oxide, which makes it a brilliant red.
This is the Levant mine, the scene of one of Cornwall's worst mining disasters,
and the inspiration for perhaps Lanyon's greatest painting.
At 2:45 on the afternoon of 20th October, 1919, the old mineshaft lift,
known rather ominously as the Man Engine, shattered into pieces
and sent its passengers tumbling deep into the mine shaft.
31 men died that day, leaving 19 women widowed and 47 children fatherless.
Peter Lanyon was just a baby when the Man Engine broke, but he was haunted by the event
throughout his life and the thought of dead bodies being shovelled up from the ground with spades.
He may also have felt some guilt.
His family had managed these mines for generations.
But, whatever the reason, his visit here had convinced him
he had to make some kind of memorial to the victims.
This is Lanyon's memorial to the miners.
It's called St Just after the town from which most of them came.
I think it's one of the great paintings of the 20th century, and I'm going to tell you why.
First, this big black stripe that runs through the painting from top to bottom.
That's the fatal mineshaft in which those 31 men lost their lives.
These wires and pulleys at the top are the wires and pulleys of the Man Engine.
I think this might be an indication of it plummeting to the very base of the shaft.
So at first sight it's a rather literal cross section
of the mineshaft seen from the ground within.
It's a kind of diagram of disaster.
But Lanyon insisted there was a second level of meaning to this painting.
He claimed it was also a crucifixion.
When you look at it in that light, you can see
this black line coming down with the two arms across,
does resemble an old-fashioned religious crucifixion.
There aren't just two levels of meaning to this painting.
There's a third level. That third level can only be understood when the painting is tilted to the side.
When you look at the painting from this angle, you realise it's not
just a picture of the mineshaft seen from under the ground,
but a picture of the whole region from above the ground,
looking down from a bird's-eye view.
This back line becomes a scar that has run all the way through the county.
This becomes the far western corner.
You can see the sea there of Cornwall.
These are the fields and the walls and houses and the roads of this region of Cornwall.
I realise it's not pretty, but then nor is being crushed to death in a mineshaft.
But it's the searing ambition of this painting that really strikes me.
In this monumental picture, Lanyon has combined religion and society and history and myth and landscape
into one ferocious indictment of industrial exploitation.
This is the Cornwall of work, of tragedy.
This is the Cornwall that no-one but Lanyon had the bravery to paint.
Peter Lanyon's reputation soared in the mid-1950s.
But he wasn't the only star of this new generation.
Another artist who shared the limelight was his schoolboy friend, Patrick Heron.
In the late 1940s, early 1950s, Heron is known primarily as a critic.
He's the art critic of the New Statesman, and very influential as such.
Therefore he's a really important person in the communication of this phenomenon of St Ives.
Fascinatingly, Heron writes an article in the New Statesman called The School Of London,
where he recognises that, in the wake of the war,
Paris's status as the capital of modern art is insecure.
New York is not yet established.
Heron proposes that maybe London can become the new centre for modernism.
But when he talks about London, he means St Ives, and the artists he cites are all working in Cornwall.
London is where there art is shown but Cornwall is the place where it's made.
In 1956, Heron returned to Cornwall, to the very house in which
he'd spent part of his childhood, Eagle's Nest.
He wrote, "To find it one must from St Ives go still further, further west.
"One must crawl up, down, around and along that incredible last lap
"of coast where the lonely road slips,
"folds and slides around rocks."
Eagle's Nest is one of the most spectacular homes in Britain.
But, perched on a rocky bluff set four-square to the Atlantic,
overlooking a primeval coastal plain, it wasn't an easy place to live.
Normally this house is just vibrating
with pretty violent winds.
Until I owned this house, I enjoyed gales, but I lie in bed there,
just waiting for some frightful crash, which has of course occurred.
Great slabs of the roof just came off.
This life, dictated by the elements,
inspired Heron to turn from writing about art to creating it himself.
In 1956, he began to paint full-time.
I don't think anybody can come to Cornwall without having this
extraordinary visual hit, because it's such an extraordinary landscape.
These fantastic windows with the extraordinary view behind,
and the way the windows are divided up into little squares
and the patches of colour through them.
They remind me of your father's paintings.
I wonder whether that,
looking through the window at this landscape,
helped generate those paintings in some way.
I'm sure that it did.
Of course a window in painting is used brilliantly.
From Matisse, there are very obvious examples.
It becomes a framing device. I think he must have used that.
Just as the windows are a framing device, so he used doors as framing devices.
They're not dissimilar from some of the proportions of some of his paintings.
I think it's another thing to do with Patrick being deeply rooted in modernism, English modernism,
which is when the spaces he wanted to both live in
and for his art to be seen in had absolutely white walls,
clear floors, simple modernist furniture.
The effect of having it all white is that it makes the view through
the windows come forward, as if the view is almost hanging on the wall, like a painting.
It bounces the light around as well.
The walls become reflectors.
Patrick used to talk about how you could look at something and make it flat,
um, and therefore make it into a painting.
It involved a rather elaborate thing of closing one eye
and imagining in your head that what you know to be a deep view,
landscape, has become something completely flat and therefore could be on the surface of a canvas.
You can do that with these windows, if you take the frame of the window
and just abstract the shape that's outside and the colour that's outside.
That's one of his ways of helping people understand.
What then people found very difficult to understand was the nature of abstraction.
All figurative art is abstract.
All art is abstract. We're savouring these abstract elements of spatial reality, of colour reality,
of formal reality, whatever great painting of whatever period in the world we're looking at.
Everyone knows about Claude Monet's garden at Giverny,
the one with the water lilies and the Japanese footbridge.
But Patrick Heron's garden here at Eagle's Nest, while less famous, is just as exciting.
The overpowering effect of colour in this garden was to find dramatic expression in Heron's paintings.
He wrote passionately about his growing obsession.
"You're in a world of viridian greens, of a multitude of greys,
"soft cerulean blue, indigo, black, khaki and Venetian red.
"A worn asymmetric rectangle, a lopsided disc,
"an uneven triangle of smooth stone inlaid in the field path at your feet,
"are echoed precisely, it seems, in the boulders of the hedge by the stile,
"in the wall of the ancient church tower, in the configuration half-a-mile away
"of pale giant rocks balanced in an intricate chaos of the dark bracken slopes above you."
For Heron, colour was the means and end, the form and content, the image and the meaning of his work.
It was everything.
To understand what he really meant by this, I've come to see a very
special painting that's hidden away in the Tate Gallery stores.
It's absolutely huge, it's like a whole continent of colour.
Come and have a look a little bit closer because it's at the edges
where the picture really comes to life. It's where one colour touches another, that's where Heron
detonates the image like a kind of explosive device.
It's where he finds, along this line, what he called the colour of colour.
His very favourite part was filling in the last patch of white.
He said that when he did this the whole world would suddenly pulse.
As you're standing here in front of this colossal coloured canvas, you completely understand it.
The whole thing radiates light.
While Patrick Heron was exploring an abstract world of colour, Peter Lanyon had stumbled across
an exciting new way to see and experience the landscape.
I have always watched birds in flight exploring the landscape, moving more freely than man.
But in a glider, I had the same freedom.
I'm now able to get away from the very familiar countryside,
one of stone and grass and very treeless for instance,
a rough, harsh countryside, into the air and to see it
in conditions which I never expected I'd find. Conditions of solitude.
In 1960, Lanyon obtained his solo flying licence.
His experience of gliding inspired a remarkable series of paintings.
But you can't properly understand them unless you take to the skies yourself.
It's just a matter of not doing paintings which are visual paintings
so much, it's paintings which are related to some physical experience.
You know, when you're up here in this glider and you're looking down over Cornwall from high up,
you realise that every other landscape painter in history missed a trick.
This is the most incredible way to see the landscape, incredible!
People say that Peter Lanyon's paintings are abstract.
When you're up here, you can see Peter Lanyon's everywhere you look.
From up here, Lanyon saw the sea, beaches, cliffs, moors, fields
and villages of Cornwall combined into one glorious vista beneath him.
I am detached, actually,
from this very rough and harsh country below me,
but not entirely detached.
In fact this whole thing of flying is giving me a better understanding,
I think, of the coast and the country underneath me
than I'd have had by continuously walking over it.
I think that...
this may be important for the future of painting, I don't know.
As far as I'm concerned, I think it's led me into something that's very important
for just not landscape but for painting problems of time and of distance.
As I hovered on those West Country thermals, I suddenly understood what Lanyon's art was all about.
It wasn't about modernism or nationalism, or history or myth,
it was actually about pure unadulterated joy.
The joy of feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair.
The joy of being in a world that you love.
As an art historian, I spend most of my time in libraries and lecture rooms.
I never thought in a million years I'd be going up in a glider and seeing Cornwall below me,
and I have one person to thank for that, and that's Peter Lanyon.
I believe that these aerial paintings are the culmination of 200 years of British landscape art,
and with them, Lanyon was on his way to becoming the Turner of the 20th century.
Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron were now the torch bearers of the St Ives movement.
A movement that had gained national and international fame
for combining the hard-edged abstraction of the 1930s
with a love for the natural world.
Ben Nicholson left St Ives for Switzerland in 1957,
but the momentum was now unstoppable.
Even the Americans were beginning to take notice.
For a few brief years, Cornish artists were going shoulder to shoulder with the Americans.
People were genuinely speaking of New York and St Ives in the same breath,
and the Americans were glancing nervously across the Atlantic,
not to see what was happening in London, Paris or Berlin,
but to see what was happening here.
In the years either side of 1960, many American artists and critics
even made the long journey to St Ives to see what was going on.
Mark Rothko, a giant of abstract expressionism was just one of them.
A creative dialogue and, at times, a vitriolic rivalry
have been opened up between these two artistic centres.
But the transatlantic cultural currents weren't just one way.
Between 1957 and 1965, Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron together
had eight one-man shows in America.
And in 1964, St Ives triumphed again when Barbara Hepworth unveiled
a monumental sculpture at the United Nations in New York City.
No one then could possibly have predicted that the glory years of St Ives were over.
The trigger for this unexpected decline came out of the blue.
On Thursday 27th August 1964,
Peter Lanyon was on a gliding course.
For a few glorious moments he circled high above the fields,
but as he came in to land, something went terribly wrong.
Maybe it was a momentary lapse in concentration,
perhaps a freak gust of wind.
Whatever the reason, his glider plummeted to the ground
and he was catapulted from his cockpit.
Four days later,
he was dead.
Lanyon's death was the beginning of the end for the St Ives movement.
The times had changed, its celebration of nature was suddenly out of date.
Pop art was now the movement of the moment.
There was one final tragedy to come.
In May 1975, Barbara Hepworth died
in a tragic fire at her studio in St Ives.
It was over.
40 years on, and Cornwall is still drawing artists and tourists.
The arrival of Tate St Ives in 1994 has helped to encouraged
contemporary art and reaffirm the reputations of these past masters.
I think there must have been a pioneering spirit that people making paintings to break new ground,
and they really thought they had found a new language
and they were speaking in it, and the world was listening.
I think that the work that was made here by those artists
is the real thing, and so I think people should seek it out.
The important thing about all great art is that it's timeless.
You know, it achieves a value because of its relevance to its moment,
but it also embodies timeless values
and it can speak to different generations, but in different ways.
I think the exciting thing about looking at the art of St Ives now
is that we can look at that work in ways different to the ways
it was looked at at the time and has been subsequently.
From the perspective of a new century, the achievements
of the St Ives colony look grossly undervalued.
In our consumer world, their art remains unfashionable, but I marvel at their bravery,
dedication, and the sheer range of quality of work that spanned more than half-a-century.
It's their passion for nature, their defiant radicalism and, more than anything,
their unyielding optimism that defines the art of Cornwall as a high watermark in 20th century art.
Britain doesn't figure much in the history of modern art.
When we think of modernism, we think of Paris and New York,
but the artists who lived and worked here
are an integral part of that story.
They abstracted this Cornish landscape, they turned space and rhythm into sculpture.
They turned its light and warmth into paint.
But we've forgotten how important their work is,
simply because it came from such an unlikely place.
But I think it's about time we look again at the art and artists of Cornwall.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The art colony of St Ives in Cornwall became as important as Paris or London in the history of modernism during a golden creative period between the 1920s and 1960s. The dramatic lives and works of eight artists who most made this miracle possible, from Kit Wood and Alfred Wallis to Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, are featured in a documentary which offers an alternative history of the 20th century avant-garde as well as a vivid portrayal of the history and landscapes of Cornwall itself.