The Grade II* Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, Cornwall is probably the most iconic artists’ studios in the country. It is the oldest and has hosted some of the most illustrious artists working in Britain, and the recent capital renovations won universal acclaim and several awards. Originally built in the early 1800s for the pilchard fishery, its cellars still clearly show how this industry worked, and the building was listed Grade II in 2005 because of this evidence. Fishermen still use the cellars for storing and repairing their gear, and for setting nets.
However Porthmeor is best known for the incredible number of internationally important artists who have worked here, including Julius Olsson, Frances Hodgkins, Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron, Francis Bacon and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. It is perhaps the oldest working artists’ studios in the country, as well as having the most illustrious occupants. This incredible heritage led to it being upgraded to Grade II* in 2009.
Artists started using Porthmeor around 1885, at first converting net lofts, and later moving into purpose-built studios. By 1900 there were perhaps 8-10 studios on the site, which later increased to 13. The recent renovations increased the number of studios to 19, of which 15 are used by artists, 2 for the St Ives School of Painting, and 2 for the Trust.
The building is constructed of a mix of stone, concrete and timber frame with a wet-laid slate roof, but over a century of exposure to Atlantic gales had left the fabric greatly weakened. The recent £4 million renovations allowed the building to be sympathetically restored and strengthened, with some sensitive remodelling to provide additional studios. These works were completed in 2012, and were widely acknowledged as outstanding, winning both regional and national RICS and RIBA awards among many others, and achieved ‘BREEAM Very Good’ certification.