The Hepworth Room, Jeffrey Harris and Friends

Running concurrently with our exhibitions of Harris’s work, firstly at The Crypt, and now at our Studio in Towednack, the Penwith Gallery is showing an exhibition of work by Jeffrey Harris and Friends.

The show includes a stunning pair of works by Harris and his wife, the Tasmanian artist Gwen Leitch from 1960 and 1958 respectively (illustrated below). The paintings were made in their shared No. 7 Porthmeor Studio.

The Hepworth Room, left to right: Jeff Harris Black, White & Ochre (Private collection) Gwen Leitch Black Soil (Penwith Archive) Paul Mount The Nest (Penwith Archive) and Wilhelmina Barns Graham St Ives from Island (Belgrave St Ives)
Gwen Leitch Black Soil 1958 (Penwith Archive)

Gwen Leitch was born in Tasmania. Due to a scholarship she attended the Central School of Arts and Craft in London from 1954 to 1956. She was taught by Patrick Heron and Roger Hilton and was encouraged by Heron to move to St Ives. In 1956 she lived with Delia and Patrick Heron at ‘Eagles Nest’, where she had a small studio space. In 1957 she was the second woman to be awarded a Porthmeor Beach Studio, which she retained until leaving the UK in 1970. In 1959 Jeffrey Harris and her married and shared the studio.

Photographs of No. 7 Porthmeor Studio exhibited at the Hepworth Room courtesy of the Penwith Archive. Gwen Leitch talking with artist Tony O’Malley who was a great family friend. / Jeffrey Harris painting in the studio. / Gwen taking a break in the studio. / Gwen in discussion with Ann Cummings.

Alongside photographs, letters and an exhibition catalogue held by the Penwith Gallery Archive, are works on loan from the gallery and works from the Penwith Archive’s collection. The images below capture highlights.

Photographs of the Hepworth Room: Terry Frost A Book of Ideas – Page 77 1976, Jeffrey Harris Red Squares 1969. / Barbara Hepworth’s Magic Stone with Patrick Heron’s Six in Vermillion with Violet in Red : April 1970 in the background. / Jason Lilley, Claire Harris (Jeffrey’s daughter) and guest reviewing the archive material. Artworks showing, from left to right, Jeffrey Harris Blue Still Life 1974 and Red Still Life with a Circle 1973 and on the back wall, Gwyther Irwin’s Hundred Series No.34 1971. / Flowers in the foreground, highlight a Hepworth sculpture and behind it hangs the Patrick Heron’s Six in Vermillion with Violet in Red : April 1970 and Breon O’Casey’s Blue Squares 2001.

Patrick Heron was a great supporter of Jeffrey and Gwen. He was very generous to both of them when they were establishing themselves as young artists in St Ives. Jeffrey says the following:

“Gwen was Nanny to their children at Eagles Nest (his wife Delia was lovely) – Patrick had taught Gwen at Central School and from there offered her work and somewhere to paint at Eagles Nest. It was through Patrick’s support that Gwen was awarded Porthmeor studio. She and me later shared the studio. After Gwen and I were married/living together we continued to visit Eagles Nest and Patrick would share time and knowledge of painting particularly use of colour with us both. Patrick helped me get the job at Falmouth Art School were I worked 3 days a week for 3 years from the mid 60’s. Michael Finn was head of the school and also very generous to us.” July 2022, recorded by Jeffrey Harris’ son, Chris.

Patrick Heron’s Six in Vermillion with Violet in Red : April 1970 (on loan from the gallery and for sale)

Above is Penwith Gallery committee’s letter to the members in November 1965 with reference to Jeffrey becoming a full member again and the rule changed to make it happen, and Jeffrey earning the hanging committee job straight away. This in itself is a wonderful piece of history. We can see artists like Breon O’Casey on the hanging committee. Breon had a jewellery studio near the Penwith at one point and Jeffrey and Gwen visited him and is wife Doreen at Paul on one of their visits from Australia (after they had emigrated).

The Hepworth Room is a space to display the historical material of the Penwith Gallery Archive. The archive is currently being catalogued by artist Jason Lilley and his wife Julia. The Jeffrey Harris and Friends exhibition, due to its popularity has been extended to the end of July. A catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition at Belgrave St Ives called JEFFREY HARRIS – Paintings and Prints from Cornwall and Australia, 1968 – 2022 has been written by Tony Magnusson – Peter Davies has also written for the catalogue.

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