The history of the little Gallery at Newlyn is well documented, as an exhibition centre for contemporary art, as made by local as well as visiting artists. The principal idea was that it offered an exhibition space for artists, prior to sending in their work to the RA and other venues in London and around the country. It provided an all-weather gallery whereas the original BATEMAN's Meadow studios and the Meadow itself as a showing ‘hall’ were found wanting at times of poor weather.
The Gallery building itself was constructed (1895) at the expense of John Passmore Edwards, a well known Cornish philanthropist and London newspaper scion, who was also responsible for the creation of the South London Art Gallery (Camberwell, 1893) and later the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1900). His gift to the artists of West Cornwall was made in memory of ‘The Cornish Wonder’ John OPIE RA, and recommended to the artists of the Newlyn area as their ‘show place’ ‘for the public good.’
Through a subscription system, the Gallery was supported by the artists themselves as ‘Fellows’ and by their interested pupils, friends and benefactors of the arts. Intermittently the Gallery has been called the Passmore Edwards Art Gallery (PEAG), the Opie Gallery at Newlyn, the Newlyn Orion Galleries (when amalgamated in 1974 with a commercial gallery, The Orion, in Penzance), and most commonly the Newlyn Art Gallery, the name by which it is now officially known (1995 Council Minute). From 1924 a Craft Section was introduced. A Board of Trustees was responsible for the condition and structure of the building, though not for the activities within, the latter being planned by the Newlyn Society of Artists (NSA).
Through several renovations, and various reforms made necessary through the grant-funding systems of successive Arts Councils and economic situations, the Council of Management, with the assistance of a paid executive team, now run the Gallery and plan its programme, with decreasing and little input from the artists in the area, and from the NSA, which body now sends two representatives to the standing Council. Inevitably this has meant a substantial change in influence and practice for the artists making up the NEWLYN SOCIETY of ARTISTS, who must in the managerial climate prevailing, find other venues and occasions for showing and selling their work. Nevertheless, a subscription system - for the artists and their supporters - still operates, the major proportion of which goes to support the Galleries.
A major renovation programme was completed and launched in 2007 whereby an in-town venue THE EXCHANGE was added to NAG to create a two-sited exhibition space for the Galleries' programmes, visual, performance and educational in objective. In both galleries there is also a book/gift shop with crafts for sale, and at The Exchange there is a cafe/bar for visitors. The conversion and extension project was designed by MUMA, and have been awarded Design prizes for their innovation.
NAG Trust documents
Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery;
(2009) Artists in Newlyn & West Cornwall 1880-1940: A Dictionary and Sourcebook;