Denys Maurice Orlando Prideaux Law


Denys Maurice Orlando Prideaux Law (1907-1981)

Born in Pangbourne in Berkshire, Law was the son of an architect but his parents separated when he was quite young and he lived for a while with his mother and sister in Quimper in Brittany. It was his mother, herself a keen amateur artist, who encouraged his interest in art. He was educated at St Petrocs, Rock in North Cornwall, which was owned by a Miss Vivian who had a house in Lamorna. She was very kind to him, as an accident had affected his ability to walk, and his family probably holidayed with her in Lamorna at this juncture. He then went to Imperial Services College, before training as an electrical engineer at Faraday House. He found work in the Home Counties, married and had two children. During the Second World War, being in a 'reserved occupation', he was not permitted to join the Navy, as he desired, and became Assistant District Engineer of the region around Wembley, responsible for restoring electricity during and after bombing raids. At this time, he fell in love again and, after the War, he moved down to Lamorna with his second wife, 'Ann', as his sister was now the landlady of 'The Wink' public house in the village. He took up painting full time and supplemented his income with a variety of odd jobs, working as a fisherman and using his engineering knowledge and his skill with his hands. He did copperwork, carved wood and made furniture, whilst his wife used a loom to weave textiles.

On his arrival, Lamorna Birch and Stanley Gardiner were the principal painters in the Valley. Although he did not take lessons from either of them, his depictions of Lamorna are clearly influenced by these two champions of the Valley. When describing its charms, he commented,

"It's a unique valley. There's almost something unworldly about it. From the end of September to April are the best months here, for the painter anyway. You get the colouring and you can see the shapes in the trees. When they are laden with leaves, all this is hidden. As a painter, I like to see beyond the immediate foreground....This recession and the lighting are the two main things I concentrate on."

Like the original Newlyn artists, he often preferred to paint on grey days, when he felt the light was at its best. He would often be seen painting around Lamorna, but such sketches were not normally worked up into finished pieces. They were used to assist in the design and composition of paintings executed in the studio. Law worked primarily in oils and used board covered with a gesso ground, rather than canvas. He also knew a great deal about paint, having visited Winsor and Newton regularly during his time as an electrical engineer. He observed, "A knowledge of paint is a good thing for an artist. A picture largely depends on the kind and quality of the paint you use." His paintings of the stream, woods and cottages of Lamorna in various seasons, of Cornish headlands and of yachts and boats off the Cornish coast are now popular and several have been reproduced by Medici but, during his life, with representational art out of favour, times were often tough and he was forced to exchange paintings with his friends in the community for fish or produce. He visited Germany often with the local youth club, which he ran with his sister, and he arranged for a number of his ink drawings to be engraved and ran off copies on his own ancient press. In addition to his great involvement with the St Ives Society of Artists, where he was Deputy Chairman for twelve years, he was also a stalwart of the Newlyn Society of Artists, where he was Chairman for many years.

(Abridged extract from David Tovey, Creating A Splash : The St Ives Society of Artists (1927-1952), Wilson Books, 2004)

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