In the mid-2000s, I attended a lecture on the painters of the Cornish art colonies by the author and was impressed by his enthusiasm and knowledge, so when I read about the revision of this book I bought it. It was something of a disappointment largely because of issues to do with the book's layout. If it had been published by a larger publishing house I wonder whether these issues would have been dealt with before the book appeared?
The book covers what it says in the title through an introduction and twelve chapters which are as informative as Tom Cross's lecture had been, though much expanded, and brought the artistic environments of Newlyn, St Ives and Lamorna to life, including all the various comings and goings. Paintings are reproduced in colour and black and white in roughly equal proportions, but their sizes are varied. However, as a whole I was not disappointed by this aspect of the book. Whilst the book has an index and a useful, if perhaps over-complicated map of West Cornwall (circa 1910), there is no over-arching chronological summary.
The organisation of the reproductions leaves much to be desired. As mentioned by other reviewers, it is very frustrating to have to search out the relevant picture to look at whilst the textural references are read on a different page. I appreciate that it is not possible always to have the picture on the same page as the relevant text but the reader can be helped if the reproductions are numbered [perhaps making a distinction between Plates, which relate to the discussion of an artist's work and development, and Figures (often contemporary photographs) which illustrate the social/historical context within which the art is produced] and referred to in the text or, if the page number where the relevant work can be found is mentioned in the text. Surely this could be done at the original galley proof stage or during the revision process ? However, detailed reference to paintings which are not included should be kept to an absolute minimum.
This book, despite its shortcomings, complements "Painting at the Edge: British Coastal Art Colonies 1880-1930" and, for those with an interest in British art of the late 19th/early 20th century, I would recommend both, with reservations since the art colonies discussed here, and the artists visiting or living there, have played an important part in British 20th century painting. I have also to admit that my review is coloured by remembering the lecture of Tom Cross, who died in March 2009.
The timeline is long, the cast is large, the interactions are various and complicated, the possibilities for illustration enormous.
The research has been thorough, but there is something about the way the final text has been achieved which makes it a very difficult book to take in. Jumps in time and place, interim extensions into later careers, and the lack of identification of precise qualities of individual styles and interests make your head reel.
The illustrations in colour and large size are of excellent quality, though many paintings identified as crucial do not appear, and some which do are commented on pages away from the printing. As the previous reviewer duly noted, the lack of an index of illustrations and their text references is the most signal deficiency.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I eventually did.
The Shining Sands, ISBN 1841147001 published 2008. A revised edition in new larger format (first published 1994 and reprinted 1999)
The Shining Sands is a record of the colony of artists who gathered around Cornwall during the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Through twelve chapters Cross chronicles the arrival of the numerous artists and discusses the various movements and their work.
Among the many artists Cross discusses in his study are: Lamorna Birch, Frank Bramley, Frank Dobson, Elizabeth Forbes, Stanhope Forbes, Norman Garstin, Thomas Gotch, Harold Harvey, Augustus John, Laura Knight, Walter Langley, Cedric Morris, Alfred Munnings, Ben Nicholson, John Park, Walter Sickert, Matthew Smith, Henry Scott Tuke, James McNeill Whistler, Christopher Wood, and Andres Zorn.
While this is clearly a well researched volume which makes interesting reading, it has what might be considered some serious flaws. Although the book is illustrated throughout, the chosen pictures frequently do not relate directly to the text; work by the artist being discussed might appear alongside the text, but often not the specific painting that is mentioned in the text. Conversely many of the pictures illustrated are not discussed or even mentioned in the text. When a specific picture is shown, the text does not indicate this, so unless it appears on the same page, which it often does not, the reader might miss this. To make matters worse there appears to be no reference to the illustrations in index, which itself is incomplete. There is also no bibliography as such but there is a short list of suggested further reading. Publication and source references are included in the text.
There are around 100 colour illustrations and as many again in black and white (the latter including many period photographs), but only few are more than half a page in size even when having a whole page to themselves, and many are quite small or even little more than a thumbnail. The impression is that the pictures have been added as an afterthought, and are there more as decoration rather than to advance the thoughts proffered in the text. This is a great shame as there are many beautiful paintings here demonstrating a dramatic change over the relatively short period of about half a century, but the potential impact of such is somewhat weakened by the generally small images.