Memoir written for the 150th anniversary of the Penzance School of Art
Penlee House Penzance September 2003
Penzance School of Art – 1948
It was fortunate for me that Sister Patricia, the teacher of art at St. Gertrude’s Convent in Penzance, took an interest in my drawing and painting. She asked my mother if she would object were she to show my work to the principal of the Penzance Art School, Mr. Edward Bouverie-Hoyton, and enquire if I might be allowed to attend Saturday morning classes. Because I had already told my mother that I wanted to be an artist, she agreed, but warned me it would be difficult to make a living with art if I were to choose it as a career.
In fact Mr Hoyton lived directly opposite us in Penrose Tce. Overhearing a conversation my mother had with a neighbour I learnt that he and his wife Inez had a deep blue bedroom ceiling with gold stars painted on it. I would often see him issue from his front door and sweep under his ivy-covered archway in a wide-brimmed hat, a silver-topped cane, a greatcoat with a cape, and a swirl of smoke from a long thin cigar.
I was therefore in a very good position to observe the visit from Sister Patricia to Mr Hoyton, and concealed myself behind the curtains in our bay window to wait. Like two galleons running before the wind, Sister Patricia and another nun carrying a roll of my work appeared in a flurry of black robes and rosary beads. They were admitted into his house, and emerged about 20 minutes later. I was unable to read anything from their expressions as they left, but next day at school I was given a note for my parents. It stated I would be permitted to attend the Art School.
Escorted by my mother, I was delivered by 10 o’clock the following Saturday to the Art School. I was taken in charge by a friendly but brisk and business-like elderly lady in a light brown overall, with short silver hair, a large tortoiseshell hair-grip, and small rimless glasses. She quickly got me organised with paper, pencils, a drawing board, clips and a donkey. Leaning over me, she told me there were three important rules for working in an art school “did I know what they were?” I did not. ”Rule one” she announced was ” you never drink from a cup in an art school, and did I know why? ”I did not. ”Because it might have had turpentine in it” Sadly I am unable to remember the other two rules. I was in a class of about 7 or 8 other children, the only name I remember is David Care, who is now running the Tinners Arms at Zennor. I was seven, the other children were older.
That day the teacher arranged a model for our morning’s drawing, a girl of 12 from the Grammar school, with short fair hair and a green ribbon. She was seated on a tall stool and some care was taken arranging the pleats of her tunic. I found it hard to understand how she could sit so still for so long. The teacher was pleased with my drawing because she said it had a “likeness” and at the end of the lesson asked me to go with her to show it to Mr Hoyton whose studio was in the basement. He was a very impressive figure in his paint-stained smock, enormous palette, covered with countless squiggles of colour, and holding a handful of brushes. He said the drawing was “very good” and agreed when the teacher pointed out it had a “likeness “. In front of him on a huge easel was an incomplete portrait. When I got home I told my mother about the portrait, and she said that she understood Mr Hoyton’s fee for a portrait was 200gns – a lot of money at the time. My parents were always interested to see my work after the lessons. My mother usually responded to colour, whereas my father seemed more interested if things fitted together convincingly.
Several other things were going on at the art school in addition to my class – but most notably and mysteriously to me, in a screened off area, there was a life class. It was difficult not to be curious about this, but at the same time impossible to satisfy one’s curiosity because the screening was so total. I did however, have a plan which I believed would allow me to glimpse inside this forbidden zone. I had noticed that outside the building a tall palm tree rose level with a high window, and I was sure I could climb this and look in. With my feet on the wall and my back against the tree, I reached the top and peered down into the screened – off area. There was no model sitting, but perhaps because of the movement, or a slight change in the light, one of the class looked up and saw my face at the window. In no time at all Mr Hoyton was standing at the base of the tree and ordered me down. Painfully I slithered to the ground for an admonishment. For a while I felt that whatever credit I might have acquired for the “likeness” had evaporated.
On a somewhat later occasion when the life-class was in session, a man with a dark beard approached the entrance to the screened area and opened it very slightly. Immediately a face appeared blocking his way and said” You can’t come in, the model’s posing”. ”It’s all right” said the man ”she’s my wife”.
Passing through the door of the art school for the first time was an experience I shall never forget – I was in another world where visual things were important; there was the wonderfully promising and pervasive smell of turpentine and oil paint, and everyone busy doing the kind of things I wanted to do and know about – at last I felt anointed.
Terry Pope July 2003