Samuel John Lamorna BIRCH

Samuel John Lamorna BIRCH RA, RWS
Lamorna Birch, also John; full name: Samuel John Birch

Born in Wallasey, Wirral, Merseyside (GRO) on 7 June, 1869, Birch grew up in the Manchester area and is recognised as the 'father' of the Lamorna colony.  In 1892, he moved to Cornwall, living first at Boleigh Farm.  Stanhope FORBES and others suggested further training in France, and in 1895 he spent some months at Atelier Colarossi. Apart from this brief period of artistic study, Birch was wholly self-taught. 

From his marriage to Houghton VIVIAN in 1902 until his death in 1955, he lived at Flagstaff Cottage, Lamorna, and painted the surrounding lands, cliffs, streams and terrains that he visited and loved. In many ways he was 'the man for all seasons' and is now acknowledged as the 'father of the Lamorna colony of artists' with his home, Flagstaff, serving as the centre and gathering place for artists and writers coming to the area. The many visitors would find him either working in his painting studio by the stream, or fishing in it; art and fishing were his passions and played 'equal first' in his life alongside his family.

Lamorna Birch, having selected the name Lamorna to distinguish him from his friend Lionel Birch, who was also painting in Newlyn at the time, was an extremely prolific artist, taking every opportunity to travel to patrons and to paint to commission. Earning a living from painting and tutoring was notoriously difficult. Birch was not one with inherited or family money as many of the gentleman-artists were. His work is represented in numerous public and private collections world-wide, and his picture St Ives, Cornwall (1938) was selected by the Chantrey Bequest and is in the Tate Britain Collection. In his lifetime he showed more than 500 paintings at the Fine Art Society, which reprinted many of them for commercial purposes.

Elected to the RWS (1914), an ARA in the 1920s and RA in 1934, Birch was the first RA to work in New Zealand, where he had travelled also to visit his daughter Joan Houghton BIRCH who had settled there (1937), receiving generous receptions from museum and gallery curators who purchased his work. The full story of his life is told masterfully by the author Austen Wormleighton, in A Painter Laureate, Lamorna Birch and his circle (1995). In 1997 the Falmouth Art Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition which also toured to Plymouth. His work was selected for the RA's exhibition in 1988, The Edwardians and After, and the painting chosen was Our Little Stream, Lamorna. The scene remains the same today. The journal of The Lamorna Society is named The Flagstaff, and Birch's grandson, Adam KERR, was the Hon President of the working group of artists.






Landscape painter in oils and watercolours

works and access

Work includes: Boleigh Farm; A Woodland Road (1928); In Our Old World Valley (illus in Hardie 2009 Col pl); Morning Fills the Bowl; Our Little Stream, Lamorna; Clapper Mill; Winter, Roseworthy Valley; illustrations for Cruising in Scotland (by his son-in-law, James Lennox Kerr), etc.

A full list of RA submissions is provided by Wormleighton (1995), together with illus and likenesses.

Access to work: Penlee House, Penzance; Tate Gallery; Birkenhead; Birmingham; Bournemouth; Brighton (Pavilion); Bristol; Derby; Dudley; Huddersfield; Hull; Kendal; Lancaster; Leamington; Liverpool; Oldham; Plymouth; Preston; QMDH; Rochdale; RCM, Truro; Sheffield; South Shields; Sunderland

At RCM: Woodland Scene (1921); Morning Fills the Bowl (1926); Lamorna Cove (1951); Stream with Boulders (1); Stream with Boulders (2)

Adelaide; Auckland; Christchurch; Dunedin; Hobart; Nelson; Perth; Rhode Island; Sydney; Toronto; Wanganui; Wellington, NZ


Key work was exhibited in Birch's lifetime at Liverpool 1922; Bristol 1925; the National Gallery of Ottawa, Canada 1925 and Oldham 1937

B (6); FIN (500+); GI (63+); GOU (22); I (18); L (118+); M (40); RA (237)

NAG Opening Exhibition 1895 & frequently thereafter

STISA & Show Days, St Ives

Whitechapel 1902 (6) Cat repr in Hardie 2009

'Painting in Newlyn' exh (1985) NAG & touring

'Looking West' exh (1987) NAG and RCA (Touring)

'Artists from Cornwall' (1992) RWE exh, Bristol

Falmouth Art Gallery Retrospective (& touring) 1997

2012: 'Effortless Brushstrokes', Falmouth Art Gallery 11 Feb - 14 Apr


 ARA 1926

RA (Elected) 1934

NSA 1895 ff Chairman 1933, 1939, 1946-8, 1952-5 (President)

RWS 1914

STISA 1952-55 (President )


Personal bibliography:

Cornishman 7 Jul 1926, 8 Dec 1926, 6 Jul 1932; 

Cornish Telegraph 25 Mar 1909

St Ives Times 27 Mar 1914, 8 May 1914, 17 Jul 1914, 16 May 1919, 14 May 1920 [from WMN], 3 Sep 1920 [from WMN], 7 Mar 1924

Western Morning News 24 Nov 1928 [Some reprinted in Hardie (1995)]

Hardie (1994) In Time & Place, Lamorna (primarily  the Birch family life story)

Wormleighton (1995)  A Painter Laureate, Lamorna Birch and his circle (Illus, plates, bibl) (likeness of the artist at his daughter's wedding)

General bibliography:

Bednar (3rd ed) Every Corner was a Painting

Bradfield (2007) In Field and Stable, The Life & Work of Richard 'Seal' Weatherby (incl A Portrait of SJ Lamorna Birch, c 1930s, p43)

Buckman (2006) Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945

Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery (photo likeness)

Hardie (2009) Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall (Col pl: In Our Olde World Valley)

Hoyle, H (Feb 2012 Women Artists in Cornwall 'Grace Gardner - a life in abstraction'

Hoyle, H (March 2013 Women Artists in Cornwall 'Summer in February - Art in Lamorna 1910-1914'

Johnson & Greutzner (1975) Dictionary of British Artists

McCall, Cicely (1943) Women's Institutes, Britain in Pictures series, p24: col pl: A Cornish Village: Lamorna (w/c)

Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership

RA The Edwardians and After 1900-1950 Exhibtion catalogue (Col pl: Our Little stream, Lamorna p43); 

RWE (1992) Artists from Cornwall, 'Artist Profiles: Historical', pp 33-7

The Paper Chase 1908 (Dedicated issue to S J Birch,  illus: sketch portrait & interview)

Tovey (2000) GF Bradshaw & STISA (Appendix 3: Principal Members of STISA 1927-1960)

Tovey (2003) Creating a Splash

Tovey (2022) Lamorna - An Artistic, Social and Literary History - Volumes I & II, Wilson Books