barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

CORNWALL AS CRUCIBLE – Modernity and Internationalism in Mid-century Britain


The Barber is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.


 Remote and picturesque, St Ives in Cornwall became an unlikely hotbed for avant-garde art in the mid 20th century.

Painters and sculptors made it their home, either permanently or as temporary exiles, bringing with them their preoccupation with international modernity.

Taking as its inspiration the Barber’s recently acquired Constructivist sculpture, ‘Linear Construction in Space No. 1’ (1942 – 43), by the Russian artist Naum Gabo, this exhibition presents art produced in and around St Ives from the 1930s to the 1960s, drawing on the rich resources of the Jerwood Collection, a private collection of 20th and 21st-century art.

Featuring works by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Sandra Blow and many more, ‘Cornwall as Crucible’ considers the relationships and networks between artists who lived and worked in Cornwall, examining their development of a visual language that explored the boundary between representation and abstraction, and demonstrating the impact of the distinctive Cornish landscape upon their art.

Free to visit.

Image credit: Adrian Heath, ‘Composition: Red, Black and Grey’, 1958. © Estate of the Artist.


In light of the current situation, we have removed the headphones / Artists’ Lives listening station from the exhibition.

The archive is online, so you can listen here instead or read the transcripts.

Search by the interviewee’s last name to find the audio clips:

John Wells

Margaret Mellis

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Terry Frost

Sandra Blow


Exhibitions Archive

Take a scroll through our exhibitions archive

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50 Years – A Celebration of the Coin Collection

27 March 2020 - 11 April 2021

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Review / Preview 2020

Sunday 1 March 2020

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The Artist’s Voice: Lunchtime Lecture

Wednesday 22 April, 1.10 - 2pm

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