Art School
1853 - present

The first Headmaster was Henry Malcolm GEOFFROI. Born in Boulogne in 1825, he came to London in 1840, perhaps to escape the coup attempt begun in his birthplace by the future Napoleon III. Whatever the reason, he trained as an art master at the Department of Art, South Kensington, and was dispatched to Penzance, finding lodgings at 3 Parade Passage. On September 13, 1853, he held the first meeting of the new school in two rooms above the Princes Street Hall, now believed to be today’s Masonic Lodge. At this meeting he detailed to those who attended the purpose of the school and the art that would be taught there.

    Interest in the school was strong and crossed the social classes. Everyone from artisans to young ladies wanted to learn how to draw. By the end of the year Mr Geoffroi was organizing a drawing class at Hayle, and then a few years later he established another in St Just. In Penzance there were so many who wished to join his classes that by the year's end he had moved the school from its original two rooms to Old Regent House (adjoining the National school) in Voundervour Lane.

  Almost from the school’s outset students were encouraged to take the exams offered by the Art Department at South Kensington. One notable success was William COLENSO who won a coveted Victoria Bronze Medal for his drawings of plants in 1864, the highest  possible national honour. Mr Geoffroi also took his pupil’s work to the annual Royal Polytechnic Exhibition at Falmouth where much success was achieved over the years. And then there were the popular annual exhibitions and prize giving ceremonies at the school in the autumn, shared with the science school when art and science departments were merged by central government. 1880 enough funds had been raised for a new art school to be built at the top of Morrab Road, on land gifted to the town by mayor, MP and banker, Charles Campbell Ross.

      Designed in the English Gothic style by well known Cornish architect, Silvanus TREVAIL, the new art school came in on budget at £1220.  On either side of the eastern facade are Bath stone inset plaques: one has the thistle, rose and shamrock emblem of the Department of Art and the other the head of John the Baptist, the insignia of the borough. The new art school opened on March 7, 1881 with a short civic parade and an exhibition of pupils' work along with oil and water colour paintings and object of vertu from South Kensington (Victoria and Albert Museum). Such was the local pride in the establishment that on a visit to Penzance while on a lecture tour in 1883, Oscar Wilde was shown the art school by the mayor.

[Abstract from the essay 'The Penzance School of Art: the early years' by Peter Waverly pp21-23 (in) Hardie ed (2009) Artists/Newlyn & West Cornwall 1880-1940 A Dictionary and Sourcebook]


Hardie ed (2009) Artists/Newlyn & West Cornwall 1880-1940 A Dictionary and Sourcebook;

P Waverly (2003) Penzance School of Art, 1853-2003;