The artists of the first Falmouth Art Gallery

I did a bit of gatecrashing while I was on holiday in Cornwall over the weekend. A group of arty and not-so-arty types had spent ten weeks learning about art in Cornwall from the wonderful art historian Cath Wallace, and I tagged along for the conclusive event in Falmouth Art Gallery.

Fal Art Gal is currently displaying its historical exhibition ‘Artists of the First Falmouth Art Gallery’. In 1894, the first Falmouth Art Gallery opened in Grove Place under the Directorship of Henry Scott Tuke (Love love love. His art was the subject of my dissertation, many moons ago) and fellow artist William Averst Ingram. Celebrating 120 years to the day, the exhibition shows art from Tuke and Ingram, along with other gems like Elizabeth Forbes, Stanhope Forbes, Norman Garstin, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Charles Napier Hemy, Laura Knight and John Singer Sargent.

My favourite part is the wall hung in the contemporary style, using anaglypta wallpaper and a dado rail beneath a double hung selection of art. As well as having a more ‘spacious’ curatorial style, galleries in 2014 tend to have cream or light walls, but they were darker back in the day. You know how most old portraits have a really dark background? I’d hazard a guess that it was to compliment the dark walls of galleries – it really makes it feel like the sitter is in the room with you, giving the painting a little more life.

Portrait of Charles Napier Hemy, John Singer Sargent

Anywho, that’s a tangent. One painting really stood out to me – Hevva Hevva by Percy Robert Craft, which is on loan from Penlee House.

Hevva Hevva, Percy Robert Craft

I’ll give you a bit of background info, as told by Cath Wallace on Friday morning. When a shoal of pilchards would come into the bay, a lookout man on top of the cliff would signal to a huer, who would run through the streets shouting “Hevva, hevva!”. The villagers would then rush down to the shore to help the fisherman net the pilchards.

That’s what’s going on in this big, big, big painting. Cath asked us what makes this painting a ‘Newlyn school’ painting, and to me, Newlyn school imagery focuses on working Cornwall. Not just portraits of the working classes on their breaks, but showing them actually in the act of working. Every single person in this huge (and it is huge) painting is working in some way. There is no person lazing around anywhere.

I also love the composition. The drain runs from the bottom right hand corner all the way to the sea, leading your eye to the far distance. Although the fisherman hauling the shoals of pilchards ashore aren’t shown in this scene, they are the undrawn subjects – everyone here is rushing around and it’s all, ultimately, for the fish haul. The painting is even called Hevva Hevva.

Out of all the many paintings from the artists of the first Falmouth Art Gallery, favourites varied in our little art appreciation group. Surprisingly to me, most people went for the smaller paintings. Personally, I like it big and brash but there’s a painting in this show to suit everyone’s tastes. 

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