POETS and poetry lovers gathered on Monday evening at Falmouth Library to celebrate the unveiling of a portrait of Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle, two of Cornwall’s most celebrated poets, by the internationally renowned artist Peter Edwards.

Created in 1989, the painting will now be permanently housed in the library, where the two poets would often attend readings and workshops of Falmouth Poetry Group, founded by Peter Redgrove in 1972.

In conversation with Henrietta Boex, director of Falmouth Cultural Services, Mr Edwards described how his love of poetry had inspired him to create a series of portraits of leading poets during the 1980s, including Charles Causley, Seamus Heaney and Ivor Cutler, which had culminated in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1990. The painting of the two Falmouth-based poets had formed part of that series.

“I didn’t choose them on what they looked like, but on their poetry,” Mr Edwards said.

“I like the idea of the starting point being non-visual – I could get to know them through their work, then combine that with the visual material from actually meeting them.”

Mr Edwards described the process by which he had made the painting, using sketches made during visits to Cornwall as well as photographs.

“With these big paintings, some things begin as if by accident,” he said.

“One of the things I like about paintings like this is that you can see the traces of what you’ve done.”

He described how some of the painting had been made by squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas.

“What I really wanted to do was to react to what I think is fantastic poetry and I was particularly excited by the way Peter and Penny were reacting to each other’s work,” Mr Edwards said.

“All that light coming from behind Penny – it was not something that was in the room, but something that came during the process of the painting.”

Mr Edwards described how the footballer Bobby Charlton had seen his portrait of the poets in the National Portrait Gallery at the time when the gallery was discussing who should paint Charlton’s portrait for their collection.

“Well, this chap will do!” Charlton had said.

Mr Edwards has since gone on to make portraits of many other celebrated figures, including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and footballer Ryan Giggs.

Penelope Shuttle praised the way that the portrait had caught the essence of her husband Peter Redgrove, who died in 2003: “It captures Peter’s elemental quality; the watery colours, the aura – you can feel it streaming from him.”

Ms Boex said how delighted she was that Falmouth Art Gallery and Library was now able to give the painting such a fitting permanent home.

“What we try to do is to combine literature and art, said Ms Boex.

“A painting like this is wonderful to use in the gallery workshops that we do with children – it helps to show them that you don’t need to worry about ‘going wrong’ – there is no wrong!”

In the second part of the evening Cornwall-based poets read poems by Peter Redgrove and shared memories of him.

Gary Matthews, chairman of Falmouth Poetry Group, thanked Ms Boex and Falmouth Art Gallery and Library for their support of Falmouth Poetry Group and for making art and poetry accessible to the wider Falmouth community.