Amazing work of ‘North’s Rembrandt’ Norman Cornish overlooked by art world snobs

Amazing work of ‘North’s Rembrandt’ Norman Cornish overlooked by art world snobs


 Kids playing in car-free streets, workers on the freezing pit road or in the cosy pub a thriving mining community lives on in the vibrant paintings of a man who called it home  Artist Norman Cornish chronicled everyday life in his native Co Durham in scenes so vital you can almost hear and smell them  Experts say his work could stand alongside that of Degas or Rembrandt, or his contemporary LS Lowry whose work has some similarities to his own  Yet these incredible artworks by a miner of 33 years were long underrated by a snooty art world  His background had such a stigma some artists were reluctant to have their paintings exhibited with his, said Prof Jean Brown, director of Northumbria University’s art gallery    But now he will finally get the recognition he deserves in a nationwide celebration of his work Prof Brown said: “What he achieved as a self-taught artist is quite outstanding.  “He stands shoulder to shoulder with Lowry In some ways he is very much underrated as an artist.  “The art market is quite fickle and it needs a lot of reassurance that this is good work I have no doubt it will stand the test of time. Starting with the drawings you could stand those side by side with Rembrandt, Degas that is the standard of work.”  Cornish, who died in 2014 aged 94, was the last surviving artist of the Pitman’s Academy, or the Spennymoor Settlement, set up in the 1930s for the cultural enrichment of the town in Co Durham  The eldest of nine children, he began working in the mines aged 14 – but the Academy gave him access to the arts There he was taught to paint “what he knew”.  Norman’s son John said: “For him, drawing was a compulsion His sketchbooks contain a wealth of interesting images.”  Painter Norman once told how his work preserved a bygone age for posterity, saying: “The local collieries have gone many of the old streets, chapels and pubs, many of the fascinating people who frequented these places are gone However, in my memory, and I hope in my drawings, they live on.”  Two exhibitions of Cornish’s work open tomorrow, almost 100 years to the day since his birth on November 18, 1919  The first major retrospective of his work will be held at the Bowes Museum in Co Durham, and at Palace Green Library in Durham some of his 269 sketchbooks will be on display  The story of his contemporary worker-artists, the Ashington Group of coal miners from Northumberland, was turned into a play The Pitmen Painters by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall in 2007

Dereck Turner

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