An island of inspiration: Artists and the Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Isle of Wight, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Sitting off the south coast of England, the Isle of Wight continues to attract tourists since its first rise in popularity in the 1900s. As well as day-trippers and sailing enthusiasts, the island has also long been popular with poets and artists who have found inspiration in its varied landscapes. Alongside spectacular coastal scenery, with iconic sites such as The Needles, artists of all ages and abilities have been equally challenged and energized by the busy port towns like Cowes Bay and the rolling hills, stately homes, and the unspoiled ancient woodlands of the island's interior that have helped make it a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

These days, artists also come to enjoy a vibrant cultural community, with a wide range of galleries, shops and networking opportunities, all just a short ferry ride from mainland England.

A strong artistic heritage on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight has long attracted artists, most notably in the early-modern and modern eras. In the 18th century, George Moreland was a regular visitor, painting several acclimated coastal scenes and works depicting island life. However, it was in the Victorian Age that the island really became an artistic destination.

When she was a young Princess, the future Queen Victoria spent her prolonged summer holidays on the island. She loved it so much that she had a winter home built there once she came to the throne, Osborne House, which remains a popular attraction to this day. The royal approval led to a boom in tourism. Londoners and other fashionable Europeans flocked to the Isle of Wight, including some of the most celebrated artists of their time.

The gardens at Osborne House, Aspire Via Studios
The gardens at Osborne House, an English Heritage location on the Isle of Wight

The Romantic painter and watercolourist, J.M.W. Turner, was one of many artists who visited in search of inspiration. He travelled the length and breadth of the island, filling his notebook with sketches which are now on display in the Tate Gallery. These sketches also helped Turner produce "Fishermen at Sea", his famous oil painting of men in distress in the Needles' choppy waters.

Similarly, the pre-eminent pre-Raphaelite artist, John Brett, also found inspiration on the island, producing, for instance, the highly detailed February in the Isle of Wight.

Joining the artists were numerous poets, including John Keats and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who had to move house on the island as he was getting so much attention from the locals. Plus, the architect John Nash built a home of his own there and entertained famous guests, including Turner.

Even after the death of Victoria, the island continued to attract both professional and amateur artists. Sir Winston Churchill, statesman and a painter of some skill, famously loved the island and visited many times during his lifetime. Another favourite of the Royal Family, the oil painter and watercolourist Edward Seago was also a regular visitor, as was Edward Wesson. The latter's seascapes, including The Solent from Shalfleet are celebrated testaments to the island's natural beauty and drama.

The Isle of Wight today

Today, the Isle of Wight is a hub of creative talent. The island is home to a number of leading contemporary artists producing work in a range of mediums. Among the biggest names to look out for are Lisa Traxler and Celia Wilkinson, Freya Perdue and David Firmstone, winner of the Turner Watercolour Prize in 2013.

David Firmstone, Isle of Wight artist, Aspire VIa Studios
Prize-winning Isle of Wight artist, David Firmstone

Alongside resident Isle of Wight artists, the island also welcomes significant numbers of visiting artists each year, as well as art lovers and cultural holidaymakers. Good times to visit include during the Open Studios season, when local artists open the doors of their studios and even their homes to the public, as well as for the Ventnor Fringe Festival. In addition to these annual traditions are a number of top art galleries, showcasing the best of Isle of Wight artists and other works. The most popular galleries on the island include Seaview Art Gallery in Seaview, the Neil Williams Gallery on the Ventor seafront, Kendall's Fine Art in Cowes, and Quay Arts Newport.

Visiting artists are able to make use of the island's good cultural infrastructure, with a number of specialist art shops found in Newport and Cowes. Online forums keep local artists connected and up-to-date with news of the latest exhibitions, competitions and funding opportunities, and regular events at leading venues such as Quay Arts are ideal for networking and becoming part of the island's cultural life. What's more, getting around the island and visiting the most popular spots among local artists, including Colwell Beach and Compton Bay, is relatively easy by car or by the island's public transport network.

So, whether you're following in the footsteps of past greats or finding inspiration at the Needles and overlooking Cowes, the Isle of Wight is a fantastic place for artists of all levels and experience to rent a studio and work for days or even weeks. With a studio to provide a base and the chance to either meet other creatives or enjoy some solitude, the island is easy to explore and is just waiting to welcome you.

If you're looking for artist studios for hire, contact our team at Aspire Via Studios today. The Aspire Via Artists spaces for artists in the Isle of Wight will be available during the summer of 2021.


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