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Morwenna Thistlethwaite

Saturday 16th April, 10.00am to 5.00pm
Join us for the exhibition of paintings by St Ives artist Morwenna Thistlethwaite (1912-2000).

Morwenna Thistlethwaite, who spent much of her working life in St Ives, painted still-lives, interiors and genre scenes imbued with a hazy, dreamlike quality. This exhibition shines the light on a quiet talent whose work deserves to be better known. Sacha Llewellyn, 2022.

Thistlethwaite was born in July 1912, in Kew, near Richmond, Surrey. At 14, while living in the north of Scotland, she apparently met Borlase Smart, who alongside Julius Olsson had been one of the original painters of the St Ives School. Smart suggested Morwenna travel to St Ives to study at the school set up by Leonard Fuller, but instead from 1938 she studied, for two years, as a mature student, at Leamington Spa Art College. Thistlethwaite then spent 4 years at Birmingham College of Art during the war.

Wartime records for the college are patchy; there are misty references to ‘scholarships’ and ‘prizes for best in painting’, and she was undoubtedly an accomplished student, though apparently plagued by self-doubt and crises of identity. Sketches from the 1930s, most of them figurative studies of models and lounging cats, suggest she toyed with the idea of going by her middle name, Felicity. From several hesitant attempts at transfer printing and watercolour design, she appears to have trialled motifs for wallpaper or even textiles.

The small amount of published information on Thistlethwaite comes from first-hand interviews conducted by trusted interviewers. Chief amongst those was Marion Whybrow, a teacher turned writer and art historian whose research was gathered directly from local painters and potters.

Thistlethwaite featured in Marion Whybrow’s 1984 pamphlet ‘Twenty Painters St Ives’. In 1993 she appeared in another of Whybrow’s catalogues, Twenty-two Painters who happen to be women, St Ives. She joined a long and celebrated list, from Hepworth, Nicholson and Barns-Graham to Margaret Mellis and Sandra Blow. By the 1990s she was, according to one exhibition reviewer, a frequent feature of Royal Academy shows and Bond Street galleries, and was regularly displayed at Cornish galleries.
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