Although they did not see themselves as part of a group or school, the term St Ives School is often used to refer to the artists associated with the fishing town of St Ives in West Cornwall, which became a centre for modern and abstract developments in British art from the 1940s to the 1960s

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, 'Glacier Crystal, Grindelwald' 1950
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
Glacier Crystal, Grindelwald 1950
Oil on canvas
support: 514 x 609 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1964© The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust


West Cornwall’s special quality of light has drawn painters to St Ives since the beginning of the nineteenth century. However the extension of the Great Western Railway to West Cornwall in 1877, which eased access to the remote town, made St Ives an even more appealing as a destination for artists.

In 1928 the artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood visited St Ives where they met naïve artist Alfred Wallis, whose painting was to have a profound impact on Nicholson, confirming the modern direction of his work. In 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War, Nicholson and his then wife the sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth, both by then fully fledged abstract artists, settled near St Ives, where they were soon joined by the Russian constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo. After the war St Ives became a centre for modern and abstract developments in British art led by Hepworth and Nicholson (Gabo departed in 1946).

Alfred Wallis, Five Ships, Mount’s Bay, c.1928, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge.
Alfred Wallis, Five Ships, Mount’s Bay, c.1928, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. See by appointment

From about 1950 there gathered in St Ives a group of younger artists and it is with this group, together with Hepworth and Nicholson (until his departure in 1958), that the term St Ives School is particularly associated. As well as a shared interested in abstraction, the St Ives artists were also inspired the by the landscape of West Cornwall and used its shapes, forms and colours as a source for much of their work. The principal figures of the St Ives School include Wilhelmina Barns-GrahamPaul FeilerSir Terry FrostPatrick HeronRoger HiltonPeter Lanyon, Karl Weschke and Bryan Wynter, together with the pioneer modern potter, Bernard Leach.

The heyday of the St Ives School was in the 1950s and 1960s but in 1993, Tate St Ives, a striking purpose-built new gallery in a remarkable situation on Porthmeor Beach in St Ives, was opened. It exhibits the Tate collection of St Ives School art and related types of art, and has given the town a whole new lease of artistic life.

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  • Dame Barbara Hepworth, 'Pelagos' 1946
    Dame Barbara Hepworth
    Pelagos 1946
    © Bowness
  • Ben Nicholson OM, '1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall)' 1943-5
    Ben Nicholson OM
    1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall) 1943-5
    Oil and pencil on canvasboard
    support: 406 x 502 mm
    frame: 440 x 535 x 65 mm
    Purchased 1945© The Estate of Ben Nicholson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002
  • Ben Nicholson OM, '1939-44 (painted relief)' 1939-44
    Ben Nicholson OM
    1939-44 (painted relief) 1939-44
    Oil on board laid on board
    object: 165 x 254 x 6 mm
    Purchased 1980© The Estate of Ben Nicholson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002
  • Patrick Heron, 'Azalea Garden: May 1956' 1956
    Patrick Heron
    Azalea Garden: May 1956 1956
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1524 x 1276 mm
    Purchased 1980© The estate of Patrick Heron
  • Roger Hilton, 'Grey Day by the Sea, February 1960' 1960
    Roger Hilton
    Grey Day by the Sea, February 1960 1960
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1270 x 1016 mm
    Purchased 1960© The estate of Roger Hilton
  • Barbara Hepworth Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969 in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
    Barbara Hepworth
    Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969 in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
    2375 x 2337 x 540 mm
  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, 'Composition February I' 1954
    Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
    Composition February I 1954
    Oil and pencil on board
    support: 178 x 254 mm
    Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977© The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust
  • Alfred Wallis, 'Wreck of the Alba' circa 1938-9
    Alfred Wallis
    Wreck of the Alba circa 1938-9
    Oil on wood
    support: 377 x 683 mm
    frame: 576 x 882 x 52 mm
    Presented by the Tate Friends St Ives 1994© The estate of Alfred Wallis
  • Sir Terry Frost, 'Green, Black and White Movement' 1951
    Sir Terry Frost
    Green, Black and White Movement 1951
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1092 x 851 mm
    Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1971© The estate of Sir Terry Frost
  • Peter Lanyon, 'Wreck' 1963
    Peter Lanyon
    Wreck 1963
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1220 x 1830 mm
    frame: 1238 x 1850 x 51 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983© The estate of Peter Lanyon
  • Bryan Wynter, 'Seedtime' 1958-9
    Bryan Wynter
    Seedtime 1958-9
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1422 x 1118 mm
    frame: 1460 x 1158 x 45 mm
    Purchased 1962© The estate of Bryan Wynter
  • Bernard Leach, 'Large Bowl' 1959
    Bernard Leach
    Large Bowl 1959
    Reduced stoneware
    object: 140 x 235 x 235 mm
    Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005© The estate of Bernard Leach

Further reading

Alfred Wallis: Two Boats Work of the Week, 07 June 2010
Alfred Wallis’s Two Boats was painted on the lid of a box. Find out more about the humble work that inspired one of Britain’s leading abstract artists and helped pave the way for the establishment of the St Ives School.

1928: A Cornish Encounter
The display page for this 2012 Tate display revisits the 1928 encounter between Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood and Alfred Wallis, which sparked the emergence of the St Ives School.

The Real St Ives story
This Tate Etc. article explores the more subversive and anarchic side of the Tate Ives School.

In focus

Ben Nicholson: Pioneer of abstraction

Ben Nicholson OM, 'June 1937 (painting)' 1937
Ben Nicholson OM
June 1937 (painting) 1937
Oil on canvas
support: 1594 x 2013 mm
frame: 1689 x 2100 x 77 mm
Purchased 1955© The Estate of Ben Nicholson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002

Ben Nicholson: A Continuous Line
This online exhibition guide to the 2009 exhibition at Tate Britain includes an interactive timeline of teh artist’s life and work.

Tate Archive 40 | 1987 Ben Nicholson ‘The Boy Who Never Grew Up’
David Pilling’s blog introduces a letter from Tate’s archive written by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, to Ben Nicholson in relation to a poster the artist had designed as a young man for a stage play of the story.

Scratching the surface
This fascinating Tate etc. article provides an insight into Ben Nicholson’s technique (as heard by David Lewis through the thin walls of Nicholson’s studio!)

Ben Nicholson in Tate’s collection
See artworks by the artist in Tate’s collection

Barbara Hepworth: Nature into sculpture

Who is Barbara Hepworth?
Find out about the life, work and legacy of Barbara Hepworth in this introduction to the artist. 

Delve into Tate’s archive and discover some of the letters Barbara Hepworth wrote from her studio

Barbara Hepworth: How to string a sculpture?
Barbara Hepworth began to incorporate ‘string’ into her sculpture in 1939, curator Inga Fraser explores her innovative approach in this blog.

Hepworth the internationalist
This feature discusses how Hepworth became a major international artist, showing in museums and commercial galleries across the world from a relatively young age. 

Peter Lanyon: Abstract landscapes

Explore the artist and his work in this TateShots video made during the 2010 exhibition of the artist’s work at Tate St Ives:

Cornwall inside out
Lanyon was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists, and his work reflected the local landscape with a painterly experimentation unmatched by his peers…this article explores the influence of a very different landscape on the artist’s work.

Peter Lanyon in Tate’s collection
See artworks by the artist in Tate’s collection.

In context

Dawn of a colony
Discover the nineteenth century artists who visited St Ives, paving the way for its later artist inhabitants, in this online guide to this 2008 Tate St Ives exhibition.

Abstraction sans frontières
Explore the international context which shaped the work of artists in the Cornish town from the 1940s to 1960s

Watch this rare and intimate insight into the home life of Hepworth and Nicholson, glimpsed in this home movie footage of their home and family.

Other perspectives

Tate St Ives: how artists and the town have shaped each other
In this blog, writer Janet Axten looks back at the journey from her first view of paintings by St Ives artists to the international recognition of the town’s artistic heritage today.

The house that Ben built
In this Tate Etc. article Jenny Seton, the daughter of the St Ives-based artist and friend of Ben Nicholson recalls the doll’s house she used to play with which was made by Ben Nicholson and now resides in Tate’s archive.

My brother’s brush with silk
Before becoming known for his colourful abstract paintings, St Ives School artist Patrick Heron flourished as a textile designer. His brother shares his memories of the painter’s formative years in this Tate Etc.article. 

Inspired: Sheila McKain-Waid on Barbara Hepworth
Creative Director of Jaeger, Sheila McKain-Waid talks about the creative processes and influences behind their Hepworth-inspired collection.

Discovering the essence of Hepworth
In this Tate Etc. article Linder discusses how Hepworth’s desire for her sculptures to be touched informed her performance The Ultimate Form.

In detail

The Studios at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives

The Studios at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives
Watch experts from the worlds of conservation, performance, textiles and archaeology discuss the preserved studios at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden at St Ives.

Figure and Landscape: Barbara Hepworth’s Phenomenology of Perception
This in-depth research article explores Barbara Hepworth’s development of the figure in landscape theme, to which she turned increasingly after moving to St Ives in 1939, in the context of the phenomenological philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Representation and Reputation: Barbara Hepworth’s Relationships with her American and British Dealers
This research article explores Barbara Hepworth’s attempts to raise her profile in America, and how it was frustrated by her reluctance to form relationships with new supporters.

Related glossary terms

Newlyn School, Penwith Society of Arts, Crypt Group