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Drawn by the unique quality of light found on the coast, artists began to arrive in serious numbers at St Ives in Cornwall from the 1870s onwards, after a new railway line made the town easily accessible from London.

By the end of the decade St Ives had become an established colony for professional artists who regularly exhibited their work at the Royal Academy in London. The St Ives Society of Artists was formed after the first World War, which coincided with the growth of the area as popular tourist destination and in 1920, St Ives became the home of the studio potter Bernard Leach.

In 1939 the sculptor Barbara Hepworth and her artist husband Ben Nicholson arrived and the town became the centre for a new generation of artists who explored the Cornish landscape in a variety of styles. Other artists associated with the town include Patrick Heron, Alfred Wallis and Mark Rothko.

By the 1960’s the art world had moved on and the explosion of pop culture, art and music in London drew attention away from St Ives.

It was not until 1985 when the Tate Gallery’s exhibition – “St Ives 1939-64: Twenty-Five years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery” that interest in the area was rekindled. At the time The Tate Gallery had formed a connection with the town having taken over the management of the Barbara Hepworth Museum and it was decided a gallery should be built there to show works by artists who had lived or worked in St Ives.

The architects Eldred Evans and David Shalev were chosen and proposed the now iconic design featuring a circular entrance, which echoes the shape of the gas holder previously sited there.

Building work began in 1991 and Tate St Ives opened in June 1993. The gallery was extended in 2017 to face the increasing numbers of visitors and to provide extra space for exhibitions.

From its origins as a small fishing town visited by artists wishing to paint the Cornish coast, St Ives is now an important cultural destination for art lovers who want to experience modern art in the environment that first inspired it.

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