Hs History Philosophy & Culture
Cornwall’s ‘fisherfolk’: Art and Artifice, the first book on ‘Newlyn School’ paintings for some years (as opposed to individual artist monographs), examines Cornish fisherfolk imagery in a fresh light. It integrates local research into broader national and international debates on the fisherfolkgenre.
It explores the concept of models selected from Cornwall’s fishing populations and offered to the spectator as ideal national types – as model citizens. Regional versions of London’s 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition enabled the Cornish to present themselves as a proud, independent seafaring people. Press coverage of such events typified contemporary debates elevating rural, homely values over those of urban Britain.
The book investigates the whitewashed, spare, orderly cottage interiors to identify values that artists promoted in paintings of the Cornish home. The interior shaped the many representations of Cornish fisherwomen. Their healthy, natural beauty, praised by Stanhope Forbes and fêted in the local press, was also celebrated outdoors. Costume was a large part of feminine appeal, yet artistic treatment of fisherwomen’s dress was highly selective.
Artists heroised the Cornish fisherman as hardy, industrious and stalwart. Against the background of contemporary concerns about Britain’s naval fortunes as well as its fish stocks, the fisherman’s sea-going costume is proposed as an emblem of the nation’s seafaring heritage. Meanwhile, the visual spectacle of Cornish Methodist processions draws on a fishing community’s self-presentation as orderly, temperate and responsible citizens.