Norman Cornish MBE 1919-2014
The Mural of the Durham Miners’ Gala, oil on canvas, 1963
The artwork of Norman Cornish captured the spirit of North East mining communities during the mid-twentieth century. Essentially self-taught, he worked as a miner in the Durham coalfield for 33 years before becoming a full-time, professional artist. In 1962, Cornish was commissioned by Durham County Council to paint a large mural to hang in the new County Hall in Durham City. His chosen subject was the Durham Miners’ Gala, an annual celebration at the heart of mining culture in the North East which continues to this day.
Cornish’s natural talent was nurtured when, aged 15, he joined the Sketching Club at The Settlement, in his home-town of Spennymoor. There, he was encouraged to paint the world around him – his ‘slice of life’. This fascination with details of everyday life is evident in the mural; men and women dressed in their Sunday best, old friends shaking hands and marching bands playing instruments. The whole design is full of movement. Lodge banners float on a sea of humanity while waves of young and old cascade along in the foreground. Some figures are based on Cornish’s friends and colleagues; he also included a self-portrait on the far left-hand side with his young son, John, perched on his shoulders.