The Importance of Art Societies by Richard Sorrell

In these challenging times, we're reminded of the importance of community, and of the power of art to inspire and bring light into our lives. This brought to mind Richard Sorrell's uplifting opening speech from our recent group exhibition with the St Ives Society of Artists which we are delighted to share with you here . . .

“This show unites two things that are close to my heart: the New English Art Club, of which I am a member, and this far-flung tip of Britain, West Penwith, which my wife Sue and I have made our home for the past ten years.


Cornwall, that beautiful, temperamental place, at one moment fair and smiling, then shaking her tresses in a stormy fury, then a fretful sulk and fair again. We live between St Ives and Penzance, in the hills near the ancient village of Chysauster, and we love it.


The New English has also been my artistic home for 20 years and I have met some of my closest friends in this fine society.


You may think it strange that a society that was founded in 1885 should persist in calling itself 'New', but the New English is forever developing and changing, and its artists come up with new insights that revolve around the core of plein air painting – painting in the open air, sitting down and painting what is in front of you.


Have you ever painted like this? Have you noticed how, in your concentration, that you have a feeling of oneness with your surroundings? If you sit and paint in a natural landscape, very soon the wild birds and animals start to take you for granted and you feel as if you belong among them.


If you are brave enough to stand and paint in a town, as Peter Brown does, you will feel that you become part of that town, part of its life and identity. You will enhance both your own identity and that of your surroundings.

The New English Art Club was founded in the late 19th Century by a group of British painters who had trained and worked in France, which was then the centre of the art world. They attached themselves to studios in Paris and spent much time in Brittany.


They saw themselves as the artistic children of Pissarro and the Impressionists, and when they came back to Britain they worked and lived in London, especially Cornwall, which is so strangely similar to Brittany. Indeed, one of the founders of the NEAC, Stanhope Forbes, was also the Father of the Newlyn School, and Julius Olsson, who made his home in St Ives was a prominent member of the New English.


As time went on a great many artists were attracted to the NEAC and the type of painting that it came to represent broadened and deepened.


Look at the paintings on the walls here: some are delicate and refined paintings and drawings, deeply studied from life, some are robust interpretations of what is seen, some are distillations from memories of what has been seen and assimilated, some are abstractions from visual experiences.


Art societies like the New English and the St Ives Society of Artists are, I think, very important bodies, and vital to a great many artists. A painter's life is more solitary than most; many hours are spent in rapt concentration and it is good for artists to be able to come together in these societies and share their insights with each other and with the public. Art is a language, and like all languages, it depends for its very existence on being shared.


Painting and drawing is a slow language to write but it can be read very quickly indeed, and these exhibiting societies make this happen. They are wonderful forums for the sharing of ideas, feelings and insights that will enhance life.


Look at these pictures, engage with them and enjoy them!” Richard Sorrell, 2019


Find out more about Richard Sorrell on his NEAC artist profile page where you'll find a selection of his original paintings for sale.

May 1, 2020