Penwith Society of Arts is part of the history of the development of modern and abstract art within the artists’ colony of St Ives. It was formed by abstract artists breaking away from the St Ives Society of Artists, which was too traditional for them. They had already formed the splinter Crypt Group within the St Ives Society, but by 1988 felt the need for complete separation.
The founders of the Penwith Society were Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson together with the rest of the Crypt Group, including Peter Lanyon, who played a prominent role. They invited the eminent critic and supporter of modern art, Herbert Read, to be their president.