The St Ives Artists: New Edition

The best-selling account of the artists and activities that made the small coastal town of St Ives a post-war hub of international modernism will be republished by Lund Humphries in a beautifully designed new edition in Summer 2016. Read Michael Bird’s preface to the new edition and see a selection of images taken from the book below.

Preface to the second edition

On 20 May 1994 my car broke down outside Patrick Heron’s house. In the two hours the repair van took to reach Eagles Nest, Heron made me welcome and showed me round. He made coffee in a pot very like the one in Long Table with Fruit, talked about Matisse, and – the time seemed magically stretched to accommodate all this – paused to say something about each of the large paintings that hung, perfectly placed, throughout the house. Finally – did I mind? – Heron switched on the television and we watched the funeral of the Labour leader John Smith, at which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could be seen exchanging earnest words on the church path. This is why I remember the date …

That’s where this book began. In the eight years since it was first published, much has changed, both in the town of St Ives itself and in the interpretation of the work of the St Ives modernists. Revisiting the core of this book, the first two post-war decades, I can see more connections, more intersections between otherwise diverse artistic trajectories. If you could plot these as lines on a map, the sheer density of their convergence on St Ives would be matched in Britain only by London. I have added details to reflect recent scholarship, while resisting the temptation to make the book twice as long.

The biggest difference is the number of illustrations I’ve been able to include this time – paintings, sculptures, family snapshots, sketchbooks and letters. Some are well-known works, others are reproduced here for the first time.

I was reminded at Terry Frost’s 2015 centenary exhibitions in Penzance and Newlyn how emphatically, almost physically, his early paintings from St Ives radiate an optimistic, determined working through of ideas and emotions that could not, he clearly felt, be worked through any other way. It still seems to me impossible to express in purely art historical terms just how and why modernist abstract art came to matter so intensely to Frost, Heron and their contemporaries in this unlikely place at this particular time.

The St Ives Artists: New Edition – A Biography of Place and Time by Michael Bird will be published in June 2016 and is available to pre-order now from