Entranced by a Special Place:  The Art of SJ Lamorna Birch

Entranced by a Special Place: The Art of SJ Lamorna Birch
Penlee House Gallery and Museum

When: 16 June 2018 to 08 September 2018
Where: Penlee House Gallery & Museum
Cost: £5.00 adults, £4.00 concessions (including over 60s) Children (under 18) FREE
Suitable for: Family friendly

A new exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, ‘Entranced by a Special Place: The Art of SJ Lamorna Birch’, features a selection of over seventy paintings by this much-loved artist. A painter of pure landscape, self-taught and self-made, Samuel John Lamorna Birch (1869 - 1955) was the founder and father figure of the Lamorna colony of artists and writers in West Cornwall.

Penlee House Director, Louise Connell, says: “The exhibition’s title refers to Birch's lifelong association with Lamorna, from where he took his name. However, it equally applies to the other deep connections that he made with the landscape around the Lune Valley in Lancashire, where he spent his formative years and returned many times to paint, as well as the rivers and mountains of Scotland where he indulged his second passion of trout fishing.”

Birch’s origins were humble. He was born into a working class family in Cheshire where his father worked as a painter and decorator. The family moved to Manchester when Birch was two, and he left school aged twelve to work for James Helme Ltd, a textile manufacturer. Even at work, the young Birch was forever sketching. Determined to be a professional artist, he had his first pictures exhibited at Manchester City Art Gallery while still in his teens. The city’s pollution, however, aggravated a longstanding chest infection and, to safeguard his health, the company transferred him to their Lancashire premises in the picturesque Lune Valley. Here, Birch painted the surrounding countryside in his spare time and developed a passion for landscape painting that would remain with him all his life.

In the early 1890s, Birch began making painting trips to Cornwall, discovering the village of Lamorna, about four miles along the coast from Newlyn. Unlike the Newlyn School artists, Birch preferred not to paint people; his subject was always the landscape. He was attracted by the brilliant light reflected off the sea, the verdant wooded valley and its sparkling trout stream. He finally settled in Lamorna in 1892, taking up painting as a profession, although he made regular trips back to friends and family in Lancashire throughout his life. A year later, he had his first picture accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Show, ‘Grey Day, November’. He went on to exhibit a total of 237 pictures at the Academy over the course of his career and it is estimated that he produced around 20,000 paintings during his lifetime.

In Cornwall, he shed his working class roots and adopted the persona of a country gentleman. When not painting, he was fishing, and his constant observation of nature and its expression in his work led to him becoming one of the most recognised and popular artists of his time. Two of his most famous paintings, ‘Morning at Lamorna Cove’, on loan from the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead, and ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’, on long term loan to Penlee’s collection, are included in the exhibition. The latter was exhibited, to great acclaim, at the Royal Academy in 1934, the year that he was admitted as an Academician, one of the highest accolades for an artist. ‘Entranced by a Special Place: The Art of SJ Lamorna Birch’ is being shown as part of the Royal Academy’s 250th Anniversary Celebrations and runs from 16 June to 8 September 2018.

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