Luminaries; an exhibition of Victorian Photography
A new exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance, ‘Luminaries: Victorian Photographers in West Cornwall’, will give visitors to the Gallery an insight into the lives of the local community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through rare images of West Penwith from the dawn of the photographic age. The exhibition, which opens on 12 January and runs until 16 March, is a chance to showcase some of the Gibson & Sons Archive which Penlee House acquired in 2016 with the assistance of The Art Fund, ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Cornwall Heritage Trust. In addition to images by Gibson & Sons, the show will include local professional photographers such as Robert Preston and the Richards Brothers, as well as amateur photographers such as William Colenso and John Branwell, the first owner of Penlee House.
Curator of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Katie Herbert says, “This is the largest photographic exhibition that Penlee House has ever staged, with around 100 images on display throughout the ground floor galleries. The majority of photographs on show come from the extensive collection at Penlee House and range predominantly from the 1860s to the 1900s. A large number of these are from the recently acquired Gibson Archive, which has been painstakingly scanned and researched by members of Penlee’s Photographic Research Group.”
“West Cornwall is well known for being an artistic haven, from the Newlyn School artists of the late nineteenth century right through to the wealth of contemporary artists taking inspiration from the local landscape. We wanted to convey the fact that these early photographers were doing much the same thing, documenting the local community, landscape and the social history of the area. The Gibsons especially added an artistic element to the composition of their photographs and even devised an early form of Photoshop by drawing on the glass plates with white highlights of paint”.
The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the social history of West Cornwall in the Victorian era. It will feature local events, such as the funeral procession through the main streets of Penzance of a naval officer who died while on board ship in Mount’s Bay, and the almost comical building of the boat ‘Truelove’ in a back yard, which then proved impossible to get out and down to the harbour. It will be interesting to compare these images of Victorian towns and villages with how they look today and see just how much has – or hasn’t – changed over the last 100-150 years.
The exhibition will also feature a short film on the Gibson Family and a fully illustrated book about the Gibson collection is being produced to accompany the exhibition.
Also showing at Penlee House will be a selection of popular Newlyn School paintings from the Gallery’s magnificent art collection, including Norman Garstin’s ‘The Rain it Raineth Every Day’ and ‘School is Out’ by Elizabeth Forbes.