Summary of St Ives School
The St Ives School was a name given to a cadre of artists who lived and worked in the picturesque Cornish coastal town that came to international prominence after World War Two. Having settled in the area during the war years, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, and the Russian émigré Naum Gabo, transformed St Ives into a hub for a new British avant-garde. They attracted many younger abstract artists to the area, and though their formal approaches fluctuated between semi and pure abstraction, members of the St Ives School took their inspiration from the unique West Cornwall landscape, using its shapes, natural surroundings and colors to inspire their individual visions. Once Abstract art had been overtaken by Pop Art in the 1960s, the St Ives School was winding down but its proud legacy is kept alive today through the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculptural Gardens, opened in her previous studio in 1980, and through the Tate St Ives gallery which opened in 1993 and takes pride of place on its seafront.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The St Ives School (though in point of fact it was never a formal School) owes its inception to one Alfred Willis, an elderly Cornish mariner. Wallis's unrefined, almost child-like, seascapes, which he painted onto raw materials such as cardboard and driftwood, provided the stimulation for a community of artist who were inspired by the raw honesty of his painting and a rare authenticity that captured Wallis's innate affinity with his natural environment.
- Hepworth and Nicholson, arrived in St Ives with the goal of initiating the next phase of modernism. Calling on the principals of Constructivism, Cubism, and De Stijl, they achieved their goal (and inspired others to follow) by harnessing the unique shapes, patterns and lighting conditions of England's south-western coastline.
- Hepworth's abstract sculptures were characterized by flowing, circular forms and she developed a deep connection with St Ives, taking fresh inspiration (unlike her fellow sculptor Gabo, who focused all his energies on purely formal matters) from the natural forms of the Cornish landscape including seashells, crashing waves, and ragged rock formations.
- Nicholson's work explored the dividing line between realism and abstraction. His still lifes and landscapes took on the influence of Cubism and De Stijl while capturing something of the makeshift quality of Wallis's pictorial work. Nicholson would have a profound influence on the younger St Ives painters such as Patrick Heron and Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham.
- Though works could be realist - Heron, for instance, produced several views of St Ives using heightened colors and bold lines - generally speaking the School moved more and more towards abstraction. Heron took on the influence of Abstract Expressionists, and particularly Mark Rothko's saturated passages of color, which he employed to condense the essence of the coastal town onto a two-dimensional surface. Painters such as Peter Lanyon, on the other hand, used a wide range of colors to capture the energy of the Cornish coast.
Overview of St Ives School
For the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, it was only when she was "embraced by the land and seascape" of St Ives that she gained "practical and passionate" inspiration for works she modelled "with an exactitude of form that those without sight can hold and realize".