Waterhouse & Dodd features the works of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), John Wells (1907-2000) and George Dannatt (1915-2009), who moved to the west Cornwall fishing town from the 1940s. The exhibition Shared History continues until October 26.
Meanwhile, the nearby Redfern Gallery celebrates the centenary of Paul Feiler (1918-2013), who settled in St Ives during the 1950s. Elusive Space: A Centenary runs until October 27.
Artists associated with St Ives never considered themselves a formal group, though they are often linked by their interest in the Cornish light, sea and landscape and their drive to develop modern art and abstraction.
Waterhouse & Dodd has taken Barns-Graham and Wells, two artists “comparatively neglected in the history of St Ives”, and argues for their importance in modern British art.
They were pioneers in their distinctive forms of abstraction, which they developed during the 1960s and beyond, and benefited from the support of Dannatt, a patron and artist who looked to them in turn as he developed his own personal style.
The gallery is not alone in highlighting these artists. Barns-Graham is currently the subject of a show at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings (Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice, which ends on October 7), while Wells’ pictures were featured in Sotheby’s exhibition Signals over the summer.
Each have also had auction records during the past two years – Barns-Graham as part of the David Bowie sale at Sotheby’s.
“Shared History is an opportunity to examine the work of all three fascinating artists in real depth,” says gallery director Jamie Anderson. “It will help dispel the unfair notion that Wells and Barns-Graham acted in the shadows of Ben Nicholson and [Russian artist] Naum Gabo, and will reassert their originality and innovation.”
A total of 32 works are included in the show, with most prices ranging from £1500-30,000. The pictures are drawn exclusively from the holdings of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust and the George and Ann Dannatt Trust (all works by Wells are from the latter collection).
By the early 1950s the host of painters in St Ives included Peter Lanyon, William Scott, Roger Hilton and Paul Feiler.
The show of Feiler’s works at Redfern Gallery follows a museum retrospective, also at the Jerwood Gallery, and the publication of a major monograph by Lund Humphries.
“He’s becoming better known, not as an obscure St Ives figure,” gallery director Richard Selby tells ATG. “People know his work.”
This applies primarily to Feiler’s earlier pieces, though Redfern features output from various stages of his career. In the 1950s and '60s he worked to capture the cliffs and inlets of south-west Cornwall, creating compositions that evoked the sensation of the landscape from the rain and sea to the grey granite of the houses and walls.
His top-selling work at auction, according to the Blouin Art Sales Index, is his 1960 painting Porthcadjack, Blue & Black sold at Christie’s in 2008 for £157,250 including buyer’s premium. But now his later works are coming into their own too. At the same London saleroom in June, his Janicon LXXXI (2004) made a premium-inclusive £47,500.
Janicon is typical of his later works: a square composition, based on the idea of a hidden shrine, that explores the nature of space with narrow bands of colour.
Part of the attraction of these more recent works, Selby says, is that they reflect a visual language of Feiler’s own, rather than his earlier works where he can be seen stylistically “looking over his shoulder at his colleagues” such as Lanyon. “I think he’ll be known for these later works in the coming years,” Selby adds.
Works range in price from around £1200 to more than £300,000. The gallery also stages The Way She Sees It, comprised of works that Feiler’s wife Catharine Armitage (b.1944) has produced during the past four years, each offered for around £3000-4000.