Arts and Literature

Victor Hugo statue

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

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 A painting by Renoir inspired by GuernseyLondon.

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)

Born and educated in Guernsey, he was among the first pupils at Elizabeth College in its present buildings, and 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. 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, Caperne studied at the Slade School in London before moving on to Paris. After the death of his wife in 1894, he 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, rarely parting with any of his pictures. Occasionally he painted in Europe where he met members of the Impressionist movement, including Monet.

Ethel Cheeswright (1874-1977)

The Ladies College pupil, Ethel Cheeswright went on to study art before moving to Sark in 1892. 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)

Self-taught, he persistRenoir painting inspired by Guernseyed 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.

Naftel exhibited widely, as did his second wife and his daughter Maud. Between 1850 and 1889 he exhibited over 500 works, with 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. He suffered much privation and 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.

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

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.

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.

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 USA.

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.

Local Craft and Treasured Memories

Lovely Pop

 It’s a family affair!

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.
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. Each basket is hand crafted individually in Black Maul Willow, sourced from Somerset, UK.

Beautiful creatures

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. 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.

Potty for Guernsey

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.

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

Literature and Authors

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. '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.

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'.  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.


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