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

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.


The Artists’ Lives archive is online – you can listen here instead or read the transcripts that were featured alongside this exhibition.

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

John Wells

Margaret Mellis

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Terry Frost

Sandra Blow


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