Family’s delight over Cornish exhibition
By Lyndsay Oxley - Reporter
THE work of a renowned 20th century mining artist has gone on display in Barnard Castle to mark his 100th birthday.
Visitors to The Bowes Museum can now see the exhibition, Norman Cornish: The Definitive Collection, featuring more than 60 works including, pastels, charcoals and oil paintings from both public and private collections, some of which are previously unseen.
The exhibition opened on Saturday, almost 100 years to the day after the artist’s birth in Spennymoor on November 18 in 1919.
Curator Dr Howard Coutts, from the Bowes Museum, said: “We are truly honoured to be holding this first major retrospective of works by Norman Cornish. It is a complete survey of his work from his early days up to his death. His chronicles of life in a bygone era are captivating and draw you into the scene that he’s portraying.”
At the age of just 14, Cornish left school and began work as a coal miner – a career which was to span four decades. From a young age, he was passionate about drawing and painting and he soon became aware of the sketching club at the Spennymoor Settlement. He was accepted as a member aged 15 and this gave him the opportunity to start exhibiting his work. The warden at the club, Bill Farrell, advised young Cornish to “paint what you know.”
He was hailed as a chronicler of everyday life, recording the social environment and industrial landscape in which he lived and worked, painting the community he knew with integrity.
“The streets, people and landscape that surrounded him were a constant source of inspiration. Speaking ahead of the exhibition’s launch, his son, John Cornish, said: “Even though I have looked at the selections a thousand times, it is very emotional.
“My early memories of my dad are of me having a very happy childhood. Rather than take photos, my dad would be sketching family life. I might be watching TV or reading a book and I’d turn round and my father would be sketching me. He was very quick.
“As he generated a reputation – he spent a lot of time in his studio at home. I don’t think he set out to be a social historian. He did not set out to capture a slice of time but that is how it has turned out.”
He continued to paint until he died in August 2014 aged 94. His daughter-in-law, Dorothy Cornish, added: “We are immensely proud. Norman was prolific and a wonderful artist.
“From a very early age he showed a talent. At the age of four he won a prize for drawing. Drawing was like an itch that he had to scratch.
“He always felt that was his destiny.”
The exhibition runs until February 23.