Penlee House Gallery in Penzance always seems to have something interesting to offer whenever I visit (plus they do the best cakes in the cafe!) This time, it was Wild Cornwall, to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday by showing artists’ impressions of “the flora and fauna of Cornwall”. Great idea, lovely exhibition with plenty of informative stuff, photos as well as paintings, stuffed animals and other exhibits; but I did feel it needed some more signposting to make it more relevant to Darwin. The links are there, I see that, but it just felt like an exhibition about the Cornish countryside. And that’s fine, because it did that very well.
Paintings by the Newlyn school in particular of St Michael’s Mount, Land’s End and other local places are displayed side by side with stuffed herons and photographs of crustaceans. And there are some real gems here: I was especially taken with Breakers (1895) by David James, an oil painting of waves so real one could almost taste the salt spray. The colour, the shape of the waves – this seems to me to be perfected realism. Not that that’s possible, but anyway….
Harold Harvey’s pastoral scenes, verdant and somehow reminiscent of Virgil with their figures in the verdant landscapes, also feature throughout. By contrast, Charles Naper’s Towards Land’s End shows the rock formations as almost cubist, gesturing towards a manmade structure, something that many paintings of rock formations do, I’ve noticed. Perhaps the painting that most took my fancy, purely for aesthetics, was Frank Gascoigne Heath’s Madonna Lilies (1930), which foregrounds the flowers against the Cornish landscape in a blaze of white which transfixed me.