Norfolk and Cornwall

“Dates fail me, but it must have been either in the late summer of 1910 or 1911 that my friend Stones and I journeyed by Sea to Cornwall. For years we had known of the famous Newlyn School, and were curious to see this country which attracted artists.


…Our east-to-west journey, taking us to the far end of Cornwall, was a complete change to an East Anglian like myself. At that time I had not even see Stonehenge. The district of south-west Norwich which embraced the Swainsthorpe environment was well-timbered. The prevailing hedgerow trees were oaks, their foliage partially embowering lanes and small hamlets. Many farms were set amongst oak trees, and any farm of importance had, as a distinguishing feature, an ancient oak standing in the middle of its home pasture by the house, underneath which generations of cart-horses had stood on summer Sundays for centuries.


…From all this rich, Norfolk farming country – these vistas of hedgerow-oaks and elms, woodlands, cornfields and low meadows – I found myself in a land of stone walls and tall, stone-faced banks covered with wild flowers and purple foxgloves, which seeded themselves and grew in profusion. Scrubby woods grew on hillsides, trees flourished in the valleys, and only windswept, stunned specimens braved the blasts upon the uplands. It was a wild, almost treeless, stone-walled country, with dairy cows grazing everywhere.

Spring in a Cornish Valley. 1912. Oil on canvas.The Munnings Art Museum. Copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings. 


A landscape with foxgloves in the foreground. c.1912. Oil painting.The Munnings Art Museum. Copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings. 


Cows at Water, Lamorna. 1912. Oil on canvas. The Munnings Art Museum. Copyright the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings.

…Such scenery was entirely new, and even more so, the sight and sound of the band of white, moving surf, six hundred feet below, at the foot of steep-pinnacled granite cliffs, which on some great headland stood like castles above the restless surging of the Atlantic ground-swell.


No words can describe these scenic effects. On an August or September day, to lie on the sweet-smelling turf, watching sea-pinks trembling in the winds, and listening to the unceasing sound of the surf and the cry of gulls, gives peace and rest to body and soul. Nothing quite like this coast exists anywhere. There were spots where I could laze and be idle in Norfolk, but of all places, on the right day, I find myself more often longing to be back in those Cornish cliffs, lying in the sun, listening to the incessant sound of the surf.

Dairy Cows by a Stream. c1912. Oil on canvas.


Autumn, Cornwall. c1912. Oil on canvas. Carrick Hill Art Gallery.

Having met artists and friends there, I repeated this first visit for a period and worked there, returning to winter in Swainsthorpe.

Laura Knight Painting. c1911. Oil on canvas. Norfolk Museums Service, Norwich Castle Museum.

My last and longest stay finally ended in the 1914 war. Little did painting folk in the friendly colony dream of that future.”

Alfred Munnings, An Artist’s Life, 1950.