Postcard from Cornwall 5: St Ives


Yesterday started overcast which came as rather a surprise given the wonderful sunshine we have had this week.  We have lost faith in the local weather forecast which seems to bare no resemblance to the actual temperatures so it’s now a case of peering at the sky and putting layers in the car.


Yesterday’s destination was St Ives. Like St Michael’s Mount I have wanted to visit St Ives for a while.  I wanted to see what was so special about it to attract a whole group of artists, leading to the creation of the Newland School.  I have some minor small deeply hidden artistic pretensions and having spent part of my Open University degree studying art I like to think I have a small understanding of art.  Therefore, the Tate at St Ives was on the list for this holiday.  However, I nearly changed my mind when I looked at the website for the current exhibition the other night.  I remembered our trip to Barcelona last year when my eldest son was quite critical of the Picasso museum, particularly the artist’s later work which he quite frankly thought was awful.  I brought my boys up to speak their minds so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Anyway, due to this we discussed whether it was worth going to the Tate St Ives as I didn’t want him to be grumpy!!  We decided to see how the day went.


The drive across Cornwall was accompanied by grey clouds and winds which did not bode well.  As with many of the Cornish seaside towns you park high up above the town and walk down to the harbour – it was rather nippy.  We found a delightful tea room, called the Vintage Store, where we had local tea and cookies and admired lots of retro design items in the shop.  A nippy mooch around the harbour and suddenly there we were in front of the Tate.  I think if I am honest it was the cold that drove us in but I am glad we did.  The first exhibit was by an artist called Marlow Moss (1889 – 1958) who had been friends with Mondrian and was part of the Constructivist movement.  My sons’ initial reaction was well its squares and black lines but the information cards beside the paintings explained the thinking behind the pieces and how the idea was to create an emotional response.  I had learnt years back that if you look at these sort of paintings through half closed eyes your eyes struggle to focus on the various primary colours and therefore it gives the impression of the painting breathing.  Suddenly the boys could see this and their interest changed.  I liked this exhibit best alongside the exhibit by Gareth Jones.  My sons liked R H Quaytman more and there was one painting they raved about and how the green dots moved – I couldn’t see it which was interesting.


We had a disappointing lunch in one of the local restaurants and then found the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture  Garden which is linked to the Tate.  You enter via a small studio where there is a time-line of her life and some of her smaller pieces and then you go out into the garden.  The garden is rather small and absolutely crammed with sculpture.  Personally I felt that there was too much sculpture in the space and that it in some cases they detracted from each other.  We had another of those ‘I dont get modern sculpture/art’ conversations and I had to agree with my sons that many of the sculptures didn’t appeal to me but then art is a very subjective thing and if everyone liked everything it would be dull and I like it when art challenges your view points.  I decided that I preferred the stone or wood sculptures over the metal ones and also the more organic and stone like shapes.


I was particularly fascinated by Barbara Hepworth’s studios which were, apparently, as she left them and they showed in a very simple way how she developed ideas from drawings, through models to the real thing.  My eldest, the cabinet maker, was sad to see so many of her tools were rusty and not maintained and I do agree that it might have been nice if the museum had tried to maintain it better rather than sealing the room with a big glass window.


We finished off with a little retail therapy.  I bought some of the Cornish tea and am now looking to buy a glass tea-pot which we encounter in the tea room.  It made the whole process of drinking tea more of a ritual than we have these days when we dunk our tea-bag and appealed to me.


By the time we left St Ives it had got quite  busy and quite warm.  My youngest wasn’t feeling to well at all, we think something he had eaten for lunch had disagreed so we headed home after another fab day out.

7 Comments on “Postcard from Cornwall 5: St Ives

  1. I agree, the Barbara Hepworth garden is crammed with her sculptures, there were far more there this April than when we went about 10 yrs ago. It was difficult being able to stand back to take photos. I think it is the light in St. Ives that is so special for artists, maybe not the day you went, but it certainly was in April!

  2. Interesting to read about the Hepworth garden as I love to see sculpture exhibitions in gardens and parks – much more so than visiting an indoor gallery, and the Hepworth Garden has been on my “hope to visit” list for a while. When done well I think landscape, plants and sculpture can really complement and enhance one another. If you haven’t visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park before, I would recommend a visit if you are up that way – lovely country park dotted with a huge range of sculpture and definitely not overcrowded (either with people or art!)

  3. That first picture reminds me very much of a town called Advocate Harbor, Nova Scotia. It’s on the Bay of Fundy, which is supposed to have the highest tides in the world.

  4. Hope Younger Son is OK and that it is a short bout of feeling unwell. We have no plans to go to Cornwall at the moment, although there are many gardens I would like to see plus what you have seen today, so at least I have had a taster – thanks!

  5. This series of posts has brought back fond memories of a visit to Cornwall 15 years ago. I was staying in Penzance and one day took the train up to St. Ives, where I discovered Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture garden. I am a lover of modern abstract art and sculpture and already knew of Barbara Hepworth’s work. Seeing these sculptures in the garden with flowers and sky glimpsed through the openings in the artwork made them come alive for me in a way that they hadn’t in the pages of art books.

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