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Rare glimpse of Newlyners' fey side

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 25, 2013

Elizabeth Forbes' The Pied Piper is among several rarely seen canvases currently on show in Poems, Plays And Fairy Tales at Penlee House in Penzance

Elizabeth Forbes' The Pied Piper is among several rarely seen canvases currently on show in Poems, Plays And Fairy Tales at Penlee House in Penzance

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The current exhibition in Penlee House Gallery and Museum is a curious mix of what Stanhope Forbes once called "the realms of fancy and the regions of romance", writes Frank Ruhrmund.

A far cry from the Newlyn School's studies of the local community, these fantasy and fairytale-filled pictures reflect the move that some of its members made at the turn of the century towards symbolism, not to say to Mediaevalist and Elizabethan styles of painting.

Poetry played its part too, with even such realists as Walter Langley and Norman Garstin often choosing quotes from well-known poems as titles for their works. The title of the former's But O For The Touch Of A Vanished Hand comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Break, Break, Break, while the latter's The Rain It Raineth Every Day is a quote from Shakespeare's King Lear and Twelfth Night.

Many would also seem quite suitable as book illustrations and, indeed, a number of them are the illustrations Elizabeth Forbes made for her book King Arthur's Wood which was published in 1904 and is now regarded as a collector's item. From And Then Came Riding Sir Gareth to On The Other Side Of The Stile Was A Whole New World, this is a rare opportunity to see them alongside the book itself.

It is also worth looking out for her A Dream Princess, made in 1897 and exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1902.

While pageants, plays and performances often inspired these paintings, some of the artists were not above dressing their models in costumes that had no reference to anything in particular.

Two of the most striking of these are T C Gotch's The Flag, in which Mornie Birch, daughter of S J Lamorna Birch, modelled as the angel with a golden halo holding the flag, and Alleluia, lent by Tate London for this exhibition, which features the artist's daughter Phyllis surrounded by other local models wearing clothes representing the different nations of the world.

Singing Alleluia, painting is seen to represent the universality of worship.

An exhibition which offers a new view of art from Newlyn, a number of these paintings have not been seen in Penlee House before. Some are rarely if ever seen in public. It is on view 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday (Saturdays free) until September 7.

It also worth noting that Gallery 5 contains a selection of more traditional Newlyn School paintings, including Frank Bramley's Eyes And No Eyes, Walter Langley's In A Cornish Fishing Village – Departure Of The Fleet For The North, Harold Harvey's In The Whiting Ground and Henry Meynell Rheam's Girl In Blue, which is displayed in loving memory of Dr Eric Richards.

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