Simon Parker reports on a unique exhibition of art gleaned from people’s living rooms.
Most of us imagine all the world's great works of art are housed in museums and galleries, but the truth is that the vast majority of fine paintings, sculptures and ceramics reside in private hands.
And while your neighbour might not have a Renoir or Titian hanging on his wall, he may well have a Stanhope Forbes or a Terry Frost.
It was with this knowledge in mind that Newlyn Art Gallery embarked on what is thought to be the first exhibition of work gleaned from the homes of local residents.
Opening today as part of the annual Newlyn Arts Festival, Art From The Living Room showcases more than a hundred works by artists associated with the West Cornwall fishing port. Normally only enjoyed by households and their visitors, the show covers more than a hundred years and includes some of the biggest names in Cornish art.
Gallery operations officer Simon Jaques said: "We have work by Charles Breaker, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Harold Harvey, Roger Hilton, Geoffrey Garnier and John Wells, to name just a few. There are also a number of extremely interesting examples of Newlyn copper and a pair of really beautiful Jeremy le Grice paintings."
He explained that for the past five years, Newlyn Arts Festival has exhibited the work of artists currently living and working in the village. This year the invitation was extended to all Newlyn residents to lend works of art and craft from their own homes to be displayed in a two-week exhibition. The only stipulation was that the work – from any era – had to be made in Newlyn and was now owned by a Newlyn resident.
"We invited local people to bring in their treasured art," said Simon Jaques. "And we've been astonished by the response. In all, we are showing more than 100 works spanning a century of artistic history in the village.
"We think it is a unique event. It is perhaps the first time any gallery has invited its neighbours to take works of art from their homes and put them on loan – but this is probably because most places don't have as rich an artistic history as Newlyn. There are some really beautiful works on show and I think people are going to really enjoy it."
Newlyn has a distinguished history as a place that has attracted artists and makers for more than a century, from Frank Bramley to Norman Garstin, Edwin Harris to Albert Chevallier Tayler.
Opening the show, the Reverend Julyan Drew said he thought it unlikely such an exhibition could be staged anywhere else in the country, adding: "There is such a wealth of artworks created and now owned in such close proximity to the gallery."
He was joined by well-known Newlyn author and storyteller Liz Harman. Dressed in the costume of 19th century Newlyn fishwife Betsy Lanyon, Liz explained how important the Newlyn school artists had been to the livelihoods of some fishing families at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The exhibition's organisers have included some of the stories of how particular works came into the possession of their current owners. One is of a portrait of Newlyn Art Gallery curator Blair Todd painted by Partou Zia.
"I first met Partou when she briefly worked as the shop manager at Newlyn Art Gallery in 1993," said Blair. "After she left, I would sit for her once a week at her studio on St Peter's Hill. It was a fascinating way to spend a couple of hours. The conversation was usually so animated she would need to remind me to sit still. After a year or so she gave me two head studies. The one on show has always been my favourite."
Art From The Living Room is at Newlyn Art Gallery until October 20. Admission free.
Other events in this week's Newlyn Arts Festival include a literary lunch with Dr Melissa Hardie, a book signing by Penzance-based author Patrick Gale, a poetry evening and performance by the Boiler House Quartet on Thursday, and an archive film night on Friday.