Saturday, March 22, 2003

Morrab Road, Penzance Cornwall

20th March 2003

This gallery is home to the historic collections of Penzance and Penwith district councils and features the largest art collection in West Cornwall with a focus on the paintings from the 'Newlyn School'.

I started off my visit in the traditional way with tea and cakes at the cafe (very good) and a look around the shop (lots of local information and books) before deciding to part with my £2 entrance fee. There were 2 special exhibitions on as well as a selection of paintings from the permanent collection.

The first show was "Copperwork in Cornwall" it was very bright and coppery and gaudy and I suppose beautifully crafted but a bit too much like stuff that hangs up in a pub. In fact I am going to go as far as to say that I hated it! Anyway I was always more interested in the paintings and the other show - "Flash Harry: Photographs by Harry Penhaul" - which sounded much more interesting. In the opening self portrait Flash Harry looks a little like a second world war spiv in the mould of Walker from Dad's Army, a nice guy but a little bit dodgy. He was born in 1914, died young (aged 43) and took some good pictures of local people and events. Characters on show included a strange looking man with a big moustache and a farmer on a tractor drinking from a watering can - all black and white and gritty, like people from a Thomas Hardy novel (I know my timing is a little out but they were the same basic characters unchanged by half a century) Other photographs had happy, skinny kids and smiling country folk and could have been subtitled 'We're all pulling together and much happier than you are now'. "Diverting" I wrote in my notebook.

The final section of the gallery is devoted to the permanent collection. I've seen some of it before and there are some works I really like. Elizabeth Forbes "A Zandvorf Fishgirl" is a very appealing portrait of a young girl holding a basket of fish, downbeat and melancholy in a Gwen John kind of way, all muted blues and greens. "The Fishgirl" is sentimental in that gauche way that Victorians loved but is now soo taboo and I love it.
I also liked Stanhope Forbes' "Regatta Day", T.C Gotch's "Girl In A Cornish Garden" and best of all Harold Harvey's "The Donkey Meadow".

If you find yourself in Penzance check it out.

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