Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting at Penlee

This was an exhibition that I really couldn’t miss: a celebration of the collection of my hometown museum to mark the twentieth anniversary of its expansion from a small collection of Newlyn School artworks into a fully fledged museum and gallery with collections of fine and decorative art, social history, photography and archaeology.

I still haven’t learned to speak the language of art – and I probably never will – but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and tell you some of my thoughts.

We saw a wonderful array of paintings from the glory days of the Newlyn school. Many of them – alomost all of them – were wonderfully familiar and it was so lovely to see them in real life.There were works by Walter Langley,  Frank Bramley, Harold Harvey, Fred Hall, Henry Scott Tuke, Stanhope Forbes …

  (Abbey Slip, 1921 by Stanhope Forbes)

This is a painting I love for its own sake and because the scene is so familiar. I have walked up and down those steps so many times, my best friend lived just a few minutes walk from the top of the steps, and the Man of the House recalled that his grandfather lived in that part of town too and his father told him that he learned to swim in that harbour basin.

Little has changed today; but the warehouses fell into decay and have been restored as office accommodation, so you’ll see parked cars in front of them today rather than upturned boats. Unless the weather is rough and waves are crashing up …

(Dinner Time by Henry Scott Tuke)

This is such a striking portrait; and it reminded me of a very recent photograph of a group of fisherman in a net loft, in a photographic book published a few years ago to raise finds for the Fisherman’s mission.

(Forty Winks by Fred Hall)

And this is the donkey from the exhibition poster. It was suggested that there might be a link with the writer Derek Tangye, and the Man of the House wondered if it might be an ancestor of the donkeys he knew when he worked out at the National Trust’s Botallack base.

The hallway was filled with photographs from a recently acquired collection. We were particularly taken with an early photograph of St Michael’s Mount Boatman. Their uniforms were remarkable, and most have been horribly cumbersome. Mount jobs were often passed down through families and the Man of the House thought he could see resemblances to one or two of the boatmen he knew as a child.

A number of the paintings on display were chosen by the gallery’s small army of volunteer stewards, and the next painting was the most popular choice.

(On Paul Hill, 1922 by Stanhope Forbes)

I have to commend their taste; and tell you that my father grew up in a house on that hill.

As we moved through the galleries we saw that the paintings were moving forward in time.

I was thrilled to see a painting by an artist who is a particular favourite ‘in real life’ for the first time.

(The Pied Piper by Elizabeth Adela Forbes)

And maybe even better, a beautiful illustrated book that she prepared for her children was on show in a cabinet. There were some lovely sketches by Norman Garstin there, as well as a cartoon by his writer son, Crosbie, showing the artist followed by his daughter Alathea – another artist – and a string of pupils.

I wish I could show you that cabinet, but I can’t.

And, before I leave Elizabeth Adela Forbes behind, I must tell you that her drypoint etchings are quite wonderful.

(Laura and Paul Jewill Hill, 1915)

I know that Harold Harvey is much loved, and a particular favourite of the Persephone Post, so I had to show off one of his paintings from this exhibition. I chose this one because I saw that it was a bequest from one of the subjects, Miss Laura Jewill Hill.

One painting that I particularly liked was a bequest from Doctor Eric Richards. I spotted more of his bequests, I have a number of books from the library book-sale that came from his collection, and I have to think that we have very similar tastes.

(Old Harbour Newlyn by Geoffrey Snyed Gardiner)

Upstairs, we saw the most contemporary works. Some were by artists still alive and working, and we spotted two artists whose paintings we own. Bob Vigg was a friend of my godmother, Michael Praed was one of my mothers teaching colleagues before he began to paint full-time, and I must confess that we liked our own paintings a little more than the works in the exhibition.

There was a great deal of wonderful work in this gallery, and it was here that I saw how certain artists had influenced others.

I was very taken with a painting by John Miller, quite unlike his more famous works. I wish I could show you but it doesn’t seem to be in the museum’s database yet. It was another bequest from Dr Richards …

I loved this view of my hometown.

(Penzance Panorama by Ken Symons)

I have always loved Jack Pender’s work.

(Untitled (Boats at Mousehole by Jack Pender)

And this lovely sunset, over the lighthouse that inspired the young Virginia Woolf, seems to be the right place for me to stop.

 (Godrevy Lighthouse, Carbis Bay by Hector Arthur Mace)

* * * * * * *

A Casket of Pearls runs until 3rd June 2017.

Do visit if you have the chance. There is so much wonderful work, and art is so much lovelier, so much more alive, face to face than it can ever be in a book or on a computer screen.

25 thoughts on “Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting at Penlee

  1. How especially wonderful to see paintings of places you’re so closely connected to! It was lovely to see this exhibition through your eyes.


  2. A lovely post on a lovely exhibition! Thank you for sharing these, and your connections to them period I think my favorite is the Jewel Hill children.


  3. I truly love these paintings, especially the more traditional land and sea scapes, and that donkey portrait. Your area attracted many talented artists whose works are featured in this post and in the show.


  4. The Penlee Gallery is one of my all-time favourite places! I adore the Newlyn School’s work, as well as the variety of more recent pictures – your post gives a lovely flavour of the treasures in store for anyone visiting. And it gives me a nice ‘Penlee top up’, especially as it is highly unlikely that I will be able to get down to Cornwall any time soon, so thank you for that! 🙂


  5. Oh I love the Penlee Gallery and it’s annoying I won’t be down again in time to catch the exhibition. Hopefully they’ve done a book and I can get that next time I’m down. I love the cubist view of Penzance; I think that’s my favourite.


    1. There was no sign of a book but there was a listing of the exhibits and most of then should be on the museum website, It’s not the same of course, but it will give you an idea of what was there and what else there is in the collection. The cubist view was a lovely contrast to the earlier works that came before, but I must confess that we both looked at it and thought what a pity it was that half the harbour was filled in to make a car park.

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  6. What a wonderful taster, Jane, thank you. I say taster for I shall certainly be visiting. It’s been on my agenda for most of last year and now I know I must make it happen by June 3rd if I want to catch this exhibition – which sounds like it might be the perfect introduction to the treasures of Penlee and Penzance 🙂


    1. I hope you make it down, and I think this particular exhibition is well worth travelling to see. But if you’re delayed there’s a Stanhope Forbes summer exhibition which looks very promising


  7. What a wonderful exhibition! How fantastic to live in a place so old or historic that you can recognize so many places in these paintings.

    I think my favorites might be a toss up between Laura and Paul Jewill Hill-I would love to know what that conversation is about-and Godrevy Lighthouse, Carbis Bay-because I love the atmosphere it creates.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!


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