Cornwall LivingIssue #82
A window to the past
Feast your eyes on a collection of rarely-before seen photos of Victorian Penwith, with Penlee House’s latest exhibition.
A new exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, ‘Luminaries: Victorian Photographers in West Cornwall’ gives visitors the chance to gain an insight into the lives of the local community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries via rare images of west Penwith. Running until 16th March, the exhibition is a chance to showcase some of the Gibson & Sons Archive, which Penlee acquired in 2016. It will also include local professional photographers such as Robert Preston and the Richards Brothers, as well as amateur photographers such as William Colenso and John Branwell, son of the first owner of Penlee House.
“This is the largest photographic exhibition that we’ve ever staged, with 106 images on display throughout the ground floor galleries”
Penlee House Gallery & Museum Curator, Katie Herbert, tells us: “This is the largest photographic exhibition that we’ve ever staged, with 106 images on display throughout the ground floor galleries. The majority of them come from our extensive collection, ranging predominantly from the 1860s to the 1900s. A large number of these are from the Gibson Archive, which has been painstakingly scanned and researched by members of Penlee’s Photographic Research Group.”
Katie continues: “West Cornwall is well known for being an artistic haven, from the Newlyn School artists of the late 19th 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!”
Luminaries gives a fascinating insight into the social history of west Cornwall during the Victorian era. Katie finishes: “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 in the past 100 to 150 years.”
The exhibition also features a short film on the Gibson family and is accompanied by a fully illustrated book about the Gibson collection. If you’d like to gain an insight into the history of Penwith and witness for yourself the dawn of the photographic age, be sure to head to Penlee House before 16th March.
"This is the largest photographic exhibition that we’ve ever staged, with 106 images on display throughout the ground floor galleries"