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Arts & Literature

The Guernsey arts and literature scene is vibrant and flourishing. Along with well-known Guernsey painter Peter Le Vasseur, young modern painters, including Pete Hawkins, are making their mark both in and outside of the island.

A local community of creatively-minded independent producers have established themselves in the island and their pottery and toys, jewellery, prints and paintings are available in various retail outlets around the island.

Art History Local craft Literature and authors
One of Renoir's masterpieces inspired by Guernsey Guernsey inspired the French painter Renoir

Guernsey's coastline has not only inspired visiting artists, but produced much home-grown talent of its own.

During his month-long visit to the island in the late summer of 1883, French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir created some of the most valuable and recognisable paintings of the island's south coast cliffs and bays. One of his series of paintings depicting Moulin Huet hangs in the National Gallery in the London.

Arguably the most famous local painter was Peter Le Lievre whose watercolours of St Peter Port and the harbour are a fascinating record of a bygone age.

These works by both those who lived in the islands or who simply visited and fell in love, are an invaluable record of the island's changing landscape.

Peter Le Lievre (1812-1878) was born and educated in Guernsey. Among the first pupils at Elizabeth College in its present buildings, he later became one of its directors. A wine-merchant by trade, he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Guernsey Militia Artillery. He was also a churchwarden, a founder of the Mechanics Institution, and a member of States Committees, but he twice unsuccessfully stood for the position of Jurat. A geologist and naturalist, he designed the two lighthouses at the end of the Castle breakwater and St. Julian's pier.
He never exhibited in London, which explains why his work is the island's best kept secret, but his paintings, including sea-scape, townscape, landscape and portraiture, matched by skill in a variety of techniques meant he could perfectly capture the mood of the island at the time.

William John Caparne (1856-1940) Born in Nottinghamshire, he studied at the Slade School in London before moving on to Paris. Appointed art master to Oundle School in 1880, he also began to grow bulbs and seeds. After the death of his wife in 1894 he left Oundle and eventually settled in Guernsey, setting up as a grower specialising in irises. He was to receive many awards for his work with irises, and his watercolour flower studies are an important historical record.
Caparne also constantly painted landscapes, mainly in watercolours, for his own pleasure, rarely parting with any of his pictures. Occasionally he painted in Europe where he met members of the Impressionist movement, including Monet, with whom he had much in common. Sadly he lost his sight towards the end of his life but his work lives on as a memento of his life in the islands.

Ethel Cheeswright (1874-1977)  The Ladies College pupil went on to study art before moving to Sark in 1892. Throughout her long life she displayed obvious determination and self-assurance. Deeply religious, she was an ardent worker for the Mission For Deep Sea Fishermen and her respect for those who risked their lives at sea shows in a number of her paintings.  She loved fishing and described her joy and exhilaration 'to have sailed close-reefed in a stiff breeze with the mackerel lines astern, or hauled up lobster pots from the mysterious depths of the water-world, or to have steered through the foaming tide-race of Les Burons or dared the perilous passage of the Guillot, thrilling as the boat leapt forward on the crest of a the green rushing seas like a thing alive'.
Deported by the Germans during the Occupation in 1943, she continued to paint though ill-health and pain. Visits outside the internment camp were arranged by a kindly Red Cross nurse. She was repatriated in 1944 and after the war she returned to Sark, continuing to paint though nearly blind and having to use double-lensed spectacles. When asked on her 101st birthday how she felt, she replied: 'excruciatingly bored'.

Paul Naftel (1817-1891) He had no interest in the family clock-making business and always wanted to be an artist. Self-taught, a Quaker, he persisted in his ambition by giving lessons and finally, at the age of 30, became 'professor of drawing' at local private boys school, Elizabeth College. He stayed there for 20 years before moving to London in 1870.
He exhibited widely, as did his second wife and his daughter Maud. She studied at Slade School, London, but died before her father. Naftel became an Associate of the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1850 and was elected a Member in 1854. Between 1850 and 1889 he exhibited over 500 works, landscapes not only of Guernsey and its neighbouring islands, but also of England and Europe.

William Toplis (1857-1942) Toplis was already an established artist when he arrived in Sark for a holiday in 1883. He never left again, finding a lifetime's inspiration around him. A true 'plein air' painter he portrayed the rocky cliffs of Sark in fastidious detail. He suffered much privation and even poverty and was often in dispute with the Sark authorities. Nevertheless he regularly sent work for the Royal Academy, and in 1907 had two pieces accepted. He is best known for his prints in 'The Book of Sark' published in 1907.

William Lionel Wyllie RA, RI, RE (1851-1931) Painter in oils and watercolour and etcher of marine and coastal subjects. Wyllie was arguably the most important marine painter of his age. He studied in London at Heatherley's and the Royal Academy Schools where he won the Turner Gold Medal in 1869. His paintings, especially scenes of the Thames and the British fleet, became very well known through reproductions and engravings. During the last 25 years of his life he concentrated mainly on Naval and historical painting, often on a large scale, and on mastering the technique of etching. His charming and sensitive watercolours are usually of the coast of Northern France and occasionally of the Channel Islands. He exhibited frequently in London at the Royal Academy, Society of British Artists, New Watercolour Society, Grosvenor Gallery and elsewhere.

Peter Le Vasseur is arguable Guernsey's best-known contemporary painter.

British Royalty to Hollywood royalty own work painted by Guernsey artist Peter Le Vasseur.

Peter was born in Guernsey in 1938. He and his parents were forced to flee the island prior to the German occupation during WWII.

Aged just 13, he won a scholarship to Harrow Art College in 1951.

In 1963 he held his first exhibition at the Portal Gallery in Mayfair, London - it was a sell-out. This first show led to a further five one-man shows at this gallery over the next 10 years.

Peter Le Vasseur's paintings depict strong images, often linked to environmental themes, and characterised by their intricate level of detail.

HRH Princess Anne and actress Ava Gardner are among his famous fans. During the 1960s, Le Vasseur sold paintings to the Beatles, film stars Rod Steiger and Jerry Lewis, and many other well known people, including the Duke of Bedford and Lord Porchester.

He had a painting in the book 'The Beatles illustrated lyrics', which sold three and a half million copies. Fellow contributors to the book were David Hockney, Allen Jones, Erté, David Bailey, and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

In 1969 David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam) acquired a commission for Peter to produce a series of paintings for The Sunday Times and the National Film Archive, entitled 'The History of Cinema'. In 1971 this won an award for the Sunday Times.

In 1975 Peter returned to live in Guernsey with his wife Linda, the Reverend at Forest Church.

In the past four decades he has gained international recognition. He has held exhibitions in Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America.

In 1993 he was the first artist to win an Earthwatch Scientific Foundation Fellowship, which enabled him to document the flora and fauna of the fast disappearing rain forests of South America. He has also travelled widely in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

Each year Peter illustrates a children's book written by his wife. Proceeds from the book go to a local charity and there is an exhibition of the original paintings, which are for sale.

For further details of art in the Bailiwick of Guernsey please visit the Guernsey Museums website.  

Some artwork, photographs and maps are available as prints and can be ordered on line here: Guernsey Museums printed artwork

Treasured memories

Ditsy Chick prints

Ditsy Chick is a bespoke print company owned by Sarah-Jane and Tim Langlois.
It all started when their children were born. They wanted to find ways to capture and treasure those memories that were too special to be filed away in a baby book.

Sarah-Jane said she loved making colourful pieces of art that said something about her life and her family - and wanted to do the same for others.

'Everyone has their own unique story to tell and we love designing pieces that reflect those special qualities,' she said.

From family names and special places to favourite foods and holiday memories - everything is encapsulated in a beautiful, and very personal, piece of artwork.

The collection includes ready-made prints, which can also be personalised, as well as completely bespoke pieces.

'Our love of all things bright and colourful, mixed with a twist of uniqueness and enormous amounts of fun is the essence of Ditsy Chick,' said Sarah-Jane.

It's a family affair

Pannier a Cou baskets Pannier a Cou baskets

Claire Gaudion is one of only a handful of crafts people in the Channel Islands keeping one local traditional alive.

Guernsey fishing baskets, known as 'Pannier a Cou', have been used by generations of local fishermen to collect ormers, chancre and Spider crabs, and other shellfish.

While they are still used to gather shellfish from the island's shoreline, they are also bought as beautiful hand-crafted objects to be used in, or simply decorate the home.

Claire trained in Guernsey's willow basketry tradition at the Viaer Marche - Guernsey's old market held annually on the first Monday of each July - with her dad, Max. He was taught by his uncle and grandfather. Each basket is hand crafted individually in Black Maul Willow, sourced from Somerset, UK.

Pannier a Cou baskets

Beautiful creatures

Lovelypop handmade gifts

Lovelypop gifts are the creation of Guernsey crafter Hannah Godwin.

Her love of fabric combined with a desire to reuse and refashion vintage and recycled materials inspired her totally unique range of toys.

Stripy jersey fabrics are used for dolls legs, spots and flowers for dresses, fleeces for cuddly bunnies and felts for accessories. Buttons, ribbons and sequins are all added to make each piece extra special, from pirates and ballerinas to bunnies and kittens.

Hannah also breathes new life into precious old blankets and treasured baby clothes that would otherwise have been packed away in a box in the loft.

All items can also be personalised with a name and date.

Potty for Guernsey

Round Chimney Pottery

For a quirky and contemporary reminder of your holiday pick up a unique piece of Round Chimney Pottery.

The collection features original one-off pieces of hand-glazed pottery which have a very local twist. Guernsey resident Katie Cummins set up the pottery in 2009. She began decorating white earthenware jugs, plates, mugs and bowls and the occasional clay sculpture.

All pieces are decorated with original designs - many inspired by all things 'Guern', including donkeys, cows and our famous ormers.

There are also Guernsey Boy and Guernsey Girl donkey mugs, and those with 'gone ormering' and 'pushang'(Guernsey reference to a bicycle)

Katie decorates, hand-dips and fires each piece.

The range now includes sweet jars and cake plates, egg cups and dog bowls and Katie also takes commissions.

As with all lovingly-made gifts, each unique piece takes longer to create than mass-produced item. They may take a little longer but the wow factor is worth the wait - especially if they are a gift.

Stockists of locally produced arts and crafts include:

The Lovelypop Shop, Mill Street, St Peter Port

Tourist Information Centre, St Peter Port

Gift shop at Candie Museum, St Peter Port

Gift shop at Castle Cornet shop, St Peter Port

Home Comforts, Grande Rue, St Martin

Le Tricoteur at the Guernsey Pearl and Coppercraft centre, Rocquaine road, St Peter

Flavour of the Channel Islands, the gift shop at Oatlands Village, St Sampson

The Bailiwick of Guernsey has inspired writers for centuries and resulted in literary classics that have a very distinct island flavour.

Guernsey resident, French writer Victor Hugo wrote arguably one of his best works while living in the island.

French author Victor Hugo made Guernsey his home

'Toilers of the Sea', set in Guernsey and the Bailiwick waters, is about a man who must free a ship that has gone aground. In return he will win the hand of the ship owner's beautiful daughter. Victor Hugo spent 15 years in Guernsey and was captivated by its coastal waters.

A little known literary fact is that Compton Mackenzie, the famous author of 'Whisky Galore' was tenant of Herm Island between 1920 and 1923. He also used the islands as the setting for his book 'Fairy Gold'.

Herm Island inspired the author Sir Compton MacKenzie

The pre-Raphaelite poet Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote about the life of a lighthouse keeper's daughter who left Le Casquets in search of a husband only to return again to escape the hustle and bustle of 19th century Alderney.

Most recently Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have had success with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book set in post-war Guernsey following the German occupation of the Island (1940 - 45). The book was so successful that film rights have been bought with plans for a film in the making and talk of scenes being filmed in the island.

Merchandise relating to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society