Last 'Pitman painter' Norman Cornish dies aged 94
- 2 August 2014
- From the section Tyne & Wear
The last of the "Pitman painters", known for his pictures of everyday life, has died at the age of 94.
Norman Cornish, of Spennymoor, County Durham, was the last surviving artist of the Pitman's Academy at The Spennymoor Settlement.
The settlement was set up in 1930, giving mining families access to the arts and Mr Cornish was one of its most famous students.
His son-in-law Mike Thornton said he died on Friday.
The settlement became known as the Pitman's Academy because its clubs nurtured the talents of people such as writer Sid Chaplin and artist Tom McGuinness.
Cornish spent 33 years working in mines before forging a career as an artist at 47.
In an interview with the BBC in 2011, he said painting was like an "itch that you have to scratch" and that he still painted every day.
His work included vivid nostalgic pictures of ordinary life including women in headscarves, men in flat caps, fish and chip vans and horse-drawn carts.
Other scenes included men playing dominoes in the pub and children skipping in the street. Each painting sold for thousands.
A statement on his website said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of celebrated artist Norman Cornish who passed away peacefully on the evening of the 1st of August, aged 94.
"A book of condolence will be available at Northumbria University Gallery from 5 August."
The eldest of nine children, whose father was out of work, Cornish said he had no option but to start working in a mine at the age of 14.
He soon joined the Spennymoor Settlement, a cultural venture that ran art classes and had a library where he could learn about Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec and Renoir.
The story of North East miners-turned-artists was turned into a play The Pitmen Painters, by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall.
The play focuses on a group of miners in Ashington, Northumberland, who became respected painters after seeking art tuition in the 1930s.
After opening in Newcastle in 2007, The Pitmen Painters has had successful runs at the National Theatre in London and on Broadway.
Ray Spencer, chief executive of the Customs House Trust in South Shields, paid tribute on Twitter and said the world Cornish painted "no longer existed."