Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Penzance then and now ..... in paintings by Marjorie Mort and Gill Watkiss

One of the charms of southern France is discovering reproductions of famous paintings, sited where the artists stood to paint them. You discover the fauvists' views of Collioure, Dufy chief among them. Charles Rennie Macintosh in Port Vendres (I doubt he would have painted the factory that now bleakens his best view). Van Gogh in Arles.
I've just had fun doing the same in Newlyn, chasing a couple of our own paintings down to their sources. Newlyn is at the edge of a wide bay at the tip of Cornwall, half an hour's walk from Penzance. The Newlyn School of painters ranks alongside those of St Ives, all inspired by the light that spills from three sides as the sea surrounds. Commercial fishing boats cluster the harbour, bright colours bobbing on blue. Just with my camera rather than an easel I kept being caught by surprises of light.
Marjorie Mort lived at a house called 'The Willows' on Cornwall Terrace in Penzance, a sweet road running back from the Promenade (the house name has disappeared). She painted in a studio above Lloyds Bank in Newlyn, and this view was one she must have seen every day as she paced along the seafront on her way to work.


The place is easy to spot, although there are some changes over the last twenty / thirty years. the Belisha beacons are still there, and hooray for them. I've long loved these and our zebra crossings here in Britain, giving priority on roads to pedestrians, and have feared 'progress' would remove them. The T-junction has become a roundabout, lamps have become fancifully old, and there is nothing to string lights from now.

Wandering up Cornwall Terrace brought me to Morrab Gardens, chancing upon another picture that hangs on our wall. I like the drama in Gill Watkiss's paintings, characters caught leaning into moments of intimacy and estrangement, somewhat Munch-like. Cornwall is light but it's also winds and driving rain, it fronts the Atlantic while sitting on a Gulf Stream, and her pictures capture much of this.

(The painting is 'The Broken Promise' and I find fresh aspects to admire every day. the girl in bridal white at the centre is viewing, to my eyes at least, her former fiance with his arm around the woman in green.) The bandstand still holds Sunday afternoon concerts in summer, and the garden is sub-tropical. Gill paints the sky in afterwards, I understand, unlike the standard practice, and here the skyline includes an imaginative strip of sea (just as Marjorie Mort brings in a spur of land above).

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