Apse: Introduction

This display, drawn from the Tate collection, considers the development of Modernism in St Ives. It is not a chronological display, but uses three themes to explore the visual languages shared by modern artists across Europe and North America around the middle of the twentieth century.

The decades surrounding the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 were a time of enormous political and social upheaval in Europe and North America. Modernist artists found that shared visions of social change and spiritual renewal had to be reconsidered and adapted to the new, post-war world. The shift of many leading artists and intellectuals across the Western continents fleeing the war had also created new artistic centres and was altering the path of established traditions.

The story of Modernism in St Ives began in 1939, with the arrival of leading British Modernists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson along with Russian sculptor Naum Gabo. For the next three decades the Cornish town was host to many key national and international contemporary figures and a new generation of artists keen to respond to the changing world, took up residence.

Despite its remote location, artists in St Ives continued to reflect international trends and developments. Each of these three rooms explores a different aspect of the international context for the shaping of Modernism in St Ives. The themes help to track some of the shared influences and developments that occurred from the tip of rural England to the metropolis of New York. This rich exchange of ideas means that links and relationships often emerge between, as well as within, the rooms.