THE Cornish fishing port of St Ives has long been a magnet for artists – creative souls attracted by the pure quality of its rugged landscapes and unique light.

Since the summer of 1811 when JMW Turner called in on a tour of the West Country, the picturesque spot has been colonised by painters, along with sculptors writers, intellectuals and progressive thinkers from all around the world.

And that continues to this day.

The draw of this remote corner of England to artists continues to this day – and is the subject of a new exhibition at the Sewell Centre Gallery at Radley College near Abingdon.

To The Lighthouse is a celebration of the power of St Ives to inspire writers and artists from 1800 to the present day, with work by Terry Frost, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Breon O’Casey and others.

Colonised at the end of the 19th century by creative folk, the town attracted established painters like Whistler, Sickert, Munnings and Laura Knight.

Studios and painting schools were established in the old sail lofts on Porthmeor Beach and in the fishingng harbours of Newlyn and Penzance, while art became an important part of life in a community that had previously been dominated by fishing and mining.

The resulting work was naturalistic: an idealised and charming vision of the area and its inhabitants.

The advent of the railway line in 1877 meant that this previously obscure stretch of coastline would now become a popular holiday destination.

The First World War created a hiatus in the idyllic life of this artistic community, but the artists soon returned.

Among them were Borlase Smart and Julius Olsson who were instrumental in the revival of the colony.

By the late 1920s, St Ives became a mecca for a new kind of artist who was driven by the ideology that art could make a difference to the world.

High-minded intellectuals like Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Christopher Wood, horrified by the rise of Fascism in Europe, fled London and set up studios in St Ives.

The presence of the potter Bernard Leach, who arrived from Japan in 1920 to set up a pottery, added to the shared belief in the importance of art and craft in the modern age. St Ives became a crucible of intellectual activity sucking in artists from all around the world.

In 1937 Surrealist artists Man Ray, Max Ernst, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller and Leonora Carrington visited the colony.

The post WW2 period saw the arrival of a second generation of painters and intellectuals such as Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon who had lived through the war and wanted to find a new form of abstract art to express and make sense of a changed world.

The result was ground breaking.

For a moment in time, St Ives became the most iconic place in the art world with artists drawn away from Paris and New York to work in this obscure fishing town.

American artist Mark Rothko visited St Ives in 1959, while painter Francis Bacon lived and worked in St Ives between 1959 and 1960.

Its appeal is often said to be the light or the rugged beauty of its cliffs, the colour of the sea, the megalithic moorlands ravaged by ruined mine works or the dynamic energy of its wild climate.

This is a land where art is embedded in the granite of everyday life. It remains a place where the creative imagination can be as free-wheeling as the seabirds that glide the thermals off its coastline.

And art-lovers can enjoy a taste of that be heading to solidly landlocked Radley.

To The Lighthouse is at the Sewell Centre Gallery, Radley College, Abingdon. Until February 9