St Michael’s Mount reveals the Sheila Hichens Collection – 40 works by Newlyn School artists 

A new exhibition of culturally significant Cornish art opens to the public on St Michael’s Mount this month. The iconic tidal island’s newly renovated Steward’s House will act as the home of the Sheila Hichens Collection, comprising fascinating artwork painted by well-known Newlyn School artists. 

The Newlyn School was a colony of artists based in and around Newlyn from the 1880s to the early 20th century. Inspired by the earlier Barbizon School in France, artists were attracted to West Cornwall where they could paint their subject en plein air, in a purer, more natural and inspiring setting.  

Albert Chevalier Tayler – Courting Couple on a Fish Quay, Newlyn

Some of the British artists who settled in the Cornish fishing village had already travelled to France and found the Newlyn area offered a comparable environment. They were attracted by the beauty of the scenery, dramatic coastline, quality of light and simplicity of life. 

The low cost of living at the time was also a key factor in the area’s growing popularity among artists, and the extension of the Great Western Railway into West Cornwall in the late 1870s made it more accessible. 

Artist Walter Langley is generally recognised as the pioneer of the Newlyn Art colony, with Stanhope Forbes another key figure in the movement. The artists who joined them were fascinated by the fishermen and their working lives at sea, the bustle of daily life in the harbour and surrounding fields and villages.  

Harold Harvey – tulip pickers

The content of the artwork of this period was something that Penzance-born Sheila Hichens appreciated. Born in 1924, she was awarded a scholarship to Exeter University and subsequently became principal of Eastbourne Teacher Training College. Sheila developed strong links with teacher training in Tanzania and later worked for an Australian TV company on historical projects. For recreation, she loved travel and treasured her pilot’s licence. 

In retirement, Sheila purchased her grandfather’s house in Newlyn. Upon her death in 2012, the Sheila Hichens Trust was formed by virtue of her will to create a specific art collection to show how life was lived in West Cornwall before the middle of the 20th century. 

Trustees William Rogers and Lord St Levan have spent recent years in the fulfilment of their benefactor’s wish by acquiring more than 40 paintings to create the Sheila Hichens Collection, which now includes works by Langley and Forbes as well as other acclaimed Newlyn School artists such as Laura Knight and Harold Harvey. 

“Sheila Hichens’ vision was to illuminate how life was once lived in West Cornwall through the medium of paintings done at the time by Newlyn School artists,” said Lord St Levan. “It is exciting to be able to fulfil her wishes by sharing this collection with the public.” 

Steward’s House, St Michael’s Mount

The Steward’s House on St Michael’s Mount has its own interesting history. Built around 1815, it acted both as a residence and an office for the Mount Steward. At the time, the population of the village was about 300 people and included three pubs, a school and various activities connected to a thriving harbour.  

It is the grandest building in the harbour area and one of the few that survived the Victorian restoration that started in the 1870s. It is one of the properties on the Mount that still belong to the St Aubyn family, with an intimate garden at the rear for visitors to enjoy. 

The Steward’s House and Sheila Hichens Collection will be free for all to visit at St Michael’s Mount during opening hours from October 2 to April 30, 2023. During this period, visitors can access the island’s harbour village, café and shops free of charge. 

To find out more about the Sheila Hichens Collection and opening days/times for St Michael’s Mount, visit www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk