Art staycations: Cornwall

Published 4 August 2014

The National Art Pass is your passport to great art all over the UK – here's what's on offer in Cornwall.

The most coastal county in England, Cornwall's glistening golden sands and romantic natural light have made it a popular destination for artists ever since JMW Turner's first visit in the early 19th century. In the years since it has become home to both the Newlyn and St Ives schools, and continues to boast the largest concentration of artists outside of London. Here's how to spend your staycation in this culturally rich region of the south-east.

Day One

Royal Cornwall Museum

Free entry with National Art Pass

The museum brings together objects spanning archaeology, social history, fine and decorative art, geology, flora and fauna from the south west of England and beyond. As such, you can see geological minerals from the Cornish coast within the same walls as Japanese decorative boxes, and photographs capturing local life alongside an unwrapped Egyptian mummy. The fine art collection is particularly impressive; as well representing those who were born or worked in the area, it also features internationally important works by Hogarth, Constable, Van Dyck, Turner, Rossetti, Rubens and Guardi.

A new addition this summer is a display of Cornwall's finest treasures, made possible thanks to Art Fund support. The Treasure Plus grant has allowed the museum to conserve a late Bronze Age metalworker’s hoard found in St Buryan parish and Roman coins from Luxulyan parish. Among the exhibits are a gold twisted torc, bronze axes and a bronze razor, Anglo-Scandinavian stirrup strap mounts and post-medieval silver gilt dress hooks.

National Maritime Museum of Cornwall

Free entry with National Art Pass

The museum exists to promote an understanding of small boats and their place in people's lives as well as to champion the maritime heritage of Cornwall. At its heart is the National Small Boat Collection – originally developed by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich – which represents examples from the UK and around the world, and has been extended by additional crafts. Among the paintings and photographs, telescopes, logbooks, whale-tooth carvings and life-belts, you'll find Old Stan's salmon fishing boat and Ellen MacArthur's Christmas tree.

Be sure to seek out the 1814 naval presentation sword and scabbard by makers Rundell, Bridge and Rundell – acquired by the museum in 2006 with assistance from the Art Fund. Passengers on board the Duke of Marlborough presented the sword to the ship Master Mr William Macdonnell for gallant conduct in a wartime friendly fire incident in the Bay of Biscay in March 1814.

Day Two

Pendennis Castle

Free entry with National Art Pass

Built by Henry VIII between 1540 and 1545 to defend Britain from France and Spain, Pendennis Castle is one of England's finest coastal fortresses. Expanded with enlarged ramparts under Elizabeth I, it was a key Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and continued to be used as an active military outpost in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, you can explore a recreated Tudor gun room and a guardhouse that has been restored to its First World War appearance. The castle is also home to a collection of cartoons by George Butterworth, a Second World War satirist whose work lampooned Hitler and Mussolini. Head to the castle tearoom, set inside the Royal Artillery Barracks, to try traditional Cornish pasties and other locally sourced produce.

Penlee House

Free entry with National Art Pass

Set in semi-tropical gardens, the Italianate villa was built in 1865 for JR Branwell, a wealthy merchant related to the Brontë family. The main focus is on the painters of the Newlyn School, which included Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, Walter Langley, Harold Harvey and Laura Knight, while there is also a chance to explore works by artists who concentrated on Cornwall's picturesque Lamorna Valley. The gallery doesn't have a fixed art display, instead hosting a rotating exhibition programme featuring works from its permanent collection. Other exhibits relate to the region's archaeology, natural history and social life.

Day Three

Tate St Ives ​

50% off entry with National Art Pass (single admission or joint ticket with Hepworth Sculpture Garden)

Home of post-war British Modernism, the artistic legacy of the town provides the foundations for Tate St Ives. The gallery was built to celebrate the artists as well as the surroundings and atmosphere that inspired them; its unique architecture recalls the white relief works of the artist Ben Nicholson, and the unexpected twists and turns of St Ives itself.

This summer the gallery is hosting International Exchanges: Modern Art and St Ives 1915-65, an exhibition illustrating the ways in which the British modernists connected with philosophies, technical processes and visual aesthetics from across the globe.

Hepworth Sculpture Garden

50% off with National Art Pass

The museum inhabits Trewyn studios, where prominent St Ives artist Barbara Hepworth lived and worked from 1949 until her death in 1975. Its collection includes her sculptures in bronze, stone and wood, along with paintings, drawings and archive material. Scattered around the garden are many of her most magnificent works – including Four-Square Walk Through and Sphere with Inner Forms – which you can admire in the context for which they were created. After you've explored the museum, round off your trip with a stroll along Porthmeor Beach, which forms Tate St Ives 'backyard'.

Savings with National Art Pass (per person): £32.50

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