Tales from the Sea Garden

Tales from The Sea Garden

Email me: theseagarden@btinternet.com

Friday, 22 March 2013

Summer in February


I have just finished reading a book that my brother gave me for my birthday. Entitled 'Summer in February' it tells the true tale of a love triangle that developed amongst a group of painters who lived and worked in the tiny valley and cove of Lamorna, on the south Cornish coast during the period leading up to the First World War.

 Lamorna had become so closely associated with the artist Samuel John Birch that he was known simply as 'Lamorna' Birch, and his 'en plein air' style of painting attracted more artists to the valley, namely Harold Knight and his wife Laura who moved to Lamorna in 1907 and remained until 1919. The great painter Stanhope Forbes had set up a painting school in nearby Newlyn, and a young brother and sister called Florence and Joey Carter-Wood enrolled there. The arrival of the young upstart painter Alfred Munnings in 1910 seems to have sent shockwaves around this sleepy backwater.  Munnings was a wild unpredictable extrovert who quickly caught the attention of Laura Knight, as he was the very opposite of her quiet sensitive husband Harold, who only ever painted indoors. Munnings and Laura always painted outside in all weathers, making the most of the brilliant Cornish light reflected off the sea. Florence Carter-Wood was a great beauty and frequently modelled for both Alfred Munnings and Harold Knight.

Painting of Florence Carter-Wood, by Harold Knight

Harold Knight was probably in love with Florence though was far too shy (and too cautious of his wife) to act upon his feelings, but Alfred Munnings pursued her with great intensity. 

(Sorry for the blurry image, can't find a better one.) 
Munning's portrait of Florence sitting on his horse.

Among this artistic colony moved another young man, Gilbert Evans, who after fighting in the Boer war had come to Lamorna to work as a land manager on the Boskenna Estate. It is evident from the diaries he kept that he too fell in love with Florence, but his gentlemanly ways prevented him from revealing his true feelings towards her. Just when he thought their friendship might develop into something more, Florence announces that she has consented to be Alfred's wife, a disastrous decision that was to have dire consequences. On their wedding night in 1912 she takes a dose of cyanide, but survives. Her marriage to Alfred is hopeless right from the start, and she turns to Gilbert in her distress and they begin an affair. 

I shall not reveal more as this story is coming out as a film in June, and I for one can't wait! Dan Stevens (from Downton Abbey) plays the role of Gilbert Evans, and Emily Browning plays Florence Carter-Wood.

By Dame Laura Knight

Laura Knight became one of Britain's foremost impressionist painters, and became a Dame in 1929, the first woman to receive such an honour. She was also the first woman to be elected a full member of The Royal Academy in 1930. She is most well known for her studies of life in the theatre, ballet and circus.
In 2009 an employee of Christies auction house in London noticed an anomaly in the back of one of her paintings, 'Carnavalet'. There appeared to be not one but two sets of edges of canvas showing. Upon removing the 81 nails that held the back down he was astonished to reveal a second canvas, which had remained hidden from sight for almost 100 years, the colours perfectly preserved. 

The hidden painting is a portrait of a young Alfred Munnings, painted by Harold Knight just after his arrival in Lamorna in 1910.

'Sir Alfred James Munnings reading', by Harold Knight

 This poses the intriguing question of why it was hidden behind 'Carnavalet'; did Harold dispose of it because of his irritation over Laura's close friendship with Munnings? And did Laura rescue the portrait and subsequently hide it so as not to anger her husband? The real reason we shall never know, but it adds a further note of intrigue to the story of the Lamorna colony of painters. 

As I don't live that far from Lamorna I plan to go there soon and share some photos with you. It is some years since I have been to that secluded valley. My brother heard about the book and the film from a lady in the back of his ambulance that he was taking to hospital (he's a paramedic). Turns out she used to own the Lamorna Cove Hotel, which is haunted by the ghost of Munning's wife, Florence, but you shall have to either read the book or wait for the film to find out more!

'Summer in February'  by Jonathon Smith 1995


  1. An excellent post and most intriguing! I shall have to seek a copy of the book as well as keep tab on the movie.
    Thanks for sharing and Happy Spring,

  2. What an excellent post, I have so enjoyed reading it even though I should be off to my bed !
    I will have to try and get the book and will also one day be able to watch the film but I expect I'll have to wait for it to be on a dvd.

    Thank you again.


  3. lovely post never heard of the book but it seems to be a good and pretty one shall see if I can find it in the libery thank you for sharing this

  4. I love this story and just cannot wait for the film, I love these types of romantic dramas.
    Hugs Lynn xx
    Hope you have not been having any flooding xxx

  5. Very interesting book. love to read it!

  6. Thank you for that. I shall hunt out a copy of that book. A review very well written. Hope the shop has a good summer. We have just seen the arrival of Broadchurch on our screens so West Bay and Bridport are oping for a bumper season on the back of it. Hopefully Cornwall will see the same (but the thought of even more tourists means havoc for locals) can't have everything.

  7. Hallo, ik ben Emmy en ben uw nieuwe volger. Ik lees heel graag uw berichten. 23 jaar geleden bezochten we voor de eerste keer Engeland, en wel in Cornwall. Ik had nooit gedacht dat Engeland zo een mooi land was, vanaf toen was het één van mijn favoriete vakantielanden, ondanks het minder goede weer. Wat het boek betreft, ik hoop dat het ooit in het Nederlands verschijnt. Wij kijken hier in België nu naar Downton Abbey.
    Groetjes, en veel succes met de blog.

  8. Gosh that sounds like a dishy book and a dishy movie. I won't be in England yet when it comes out mid June. I probably won't get back to E till early July. Maybe it'll come out in Vancouver before I leave. :)

  9. Oh Gorgeous paintings and thank you as I have been in agonies (well a little) about what to read. This is perfect.

  10. Ive just begun reading this now and im really enjoying it. The period is my favourite one in history. I love anything Edwardian.
    The film looks great too

    Gill x