Hireth: A Cornish Landscape
Royal Cornwall Museum,
The Danes have given us “hygge” as a not directly translate-able concept particular to their culture. The Cornish offer “hireth” to refer to an intangible feeling, a longing for the familiarity and comfort of a place.
In its efforts to explain the emotional resonance of the word, the Royal Cornwall Museum’s exhibition on Cornish landscape art cites the late great John Berger who wrote of how seeing an old friend in a crowd full of people made him instantly remember what it was like to be in that person’s company.
Running for an unspecified length of time, the Hireth exhibition recreates the experience through a series of landscapes and a Hepworth bronze that convey Cornwall’s essence.
We range from straight, albeit evocative landscapes to the near- and totally abstract.
Cliff scene, Tintagel Gaspard Joseph Latoix (1858-1910) is a traditional landscape on a perfect summer’s day, dreamy but for the geological exactitude of the Cornish cliffs.
Gulls Newlyn Harbour from Frank Gascoigne Heath (1873-1936) captures the surging energy of gulls flocking towards their prey.
Modern and closer to the abstract, The Wave from Bryan Wynter, who died in 1975, replaces the gently lapping sea with the terrifying power of a single wave, while Michael Strang (born 1942) takes us right into the texture of a bank of wild flowers with Cornish Hedge, Castallack.
Many of the artists in this exhibition, Hepworth included, were not born in Cornwall, which arguably makes them all the more able to articulate the spirit of the place.
Paul Feiler was born in Germany in 1918 and came to England in 1933. He was sent to Canada for internment and later became one of the many artists who gravitated to St Ives.
His Winter Sea with Black Rocks is the diametric opposite of summer seaside: abstract, dark and full of ice.
Barbara Hepworth’s wave-like bronze Involute II is relatively speaking warm and supple.
We also have the intriguing 1967 Abstract Landscape from her pupil Breon O’Casey – an oil-on-wood composition comprising three blocks of intense matt colour.
After roaming the landscape for inspiration, he apparently preferred to work in his “windowless studio” where he recreated his memory of what he had seen. Above all it’s about colour – white and shades of green.
Green permeates the exhibition. Bob Bourne’s (born 1931) Cornish Hillside is a smooth, verdant patchwork that also conveys the contour of a landscape that sucks you in once you leave the rugged coasts.
Curves and slopes turn to inclines as you enter Cornwall’s villages and towns.
Tom Early in Truro, 1949, depicts the helter-skelter, perspective-defying sensation of steep Cornish streets.
In a similar spirit of primitivism, Alfred Wallis’ Penzance Harbour Entrance captures the angles of boats jammed together inside the harbour wall.
Cornwall isn’t just picturesque, it’s useful and this collection of distinctive art records the landscape devastation of China clay mining with Harold C. Harvey’s (1874-1941) almost documentary recording of A China Clay Pit, Leswidden.
If that has whet your appetite for local history, the galleries downstairs lay out Cornwall’s mining heritage and its variety of mineral wealth from tin and copper to a lump of haematite reminiscent of a giant blood clot from deep within the Cornish landscape.
Barbara Lewis © 2018.