Our latest glimpse behind the doors of Cornwall auction house Lay’s reveals a lifetime’s art collection featuring more than 200 pieces, curated by a former English teacher and his wife over the course of 50 years. Mimi Connell-Lay talks us through it.

John Branfield taught English and from 1961 headed the English department at Camborne Grammar School; many readers may remember him from their school days.

What you may not know about your ex-teacher is that he is a towering figure in the world of Cornish art, having been the author of several excellent biographies about some of West Cornwall’s most celebrated artistic figures. He is also a notable art collector.

John and his late wife Pep, put together over the past 50 years an exceptional art collection of some 200 paintings and ceramics by Cornish artists.

Falmouth Packet: Painting by Charles W Simpson, The Sandpit

In their early days of collecting the Branfields were drawn to the paintings of Newlyn School artists such as Stanhope Forbes, Charles Simpson and Thomas Cooper Gotch. Their interest then moved on to St Ives artists including Robert Borlase Smart, John Anthony Park, and works by St Ives Modernists; John Wells, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Terry Frost and Bryan Wynter.

In later years, paintings by Roger Hilton, Rose Hilton and Paul Feiler were added to the collection. Throughout this period, Pep and John continued to collect the work of artist friend Tony Giles and, in fact, the very first and very last paintings they acquired were by Tony.

Falmouth Packet: Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Gurnards HeadWilhelmina Barns Graham, Gurnards Head (Image: Lay's Auctioneers)

Their collection is an exceptional example of well-considered acquisitions; they bought wisely, every piece has quality and merit.

If you are a follower of Cornish art then some of these works may be familiar to you as the Branfields lent frequently to public galleries and exhibitions.

An excellent selection of their collection was recently on show at Penlee House Museum and Gallery in: A Passion for Cornish Art: 50 Years of Private Collecting between October last year and ending in January 2024.

Falmouth Packet: Painting by S Forbes, Boy on HorsePainting by S Forbes, Boy on Horse (Image: Lay's Auctioneers)

John is now in his 90s and in this moving video he talks about the decision to sell his and Pep's art collection.

Lay’s Auctioneers of Penzance feel immensely privileged to have been asked by John to handle this sale. John's work has been invaluable to them as auctioneers, cataloguers and students of art history, and he is someone they have huge admiration for.

Lay's commented: "The collection brought John and Pep great joy and it is a joy for us too, to handle it and to see its transition, soon to bring delight to new owners."

The auction takes place on February 29, 2024 in Penzance, Cornwall and online.

The entire collection can be viewed here: https://www.davidlay.co.uk/auction/details/p0jpb-the-art-collection-of-pep-and-john-branfield/?au=285

Falmouth Packet: Painting by Patrick Heron, DecemberPainting by Patrick Heron, December (Image: Lay's Auctioneers)

Lay's are taking a selection of the paintings and ceramics to London next week giving their non-westcountry clients a chance to experience this breathtaking collection up close and in person before it goes under the hammer.

The London viewing is at 6 Masons Yard, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BU on Tuesday, February 13 to Saturday, February 17 from 10am to 6pm each day.

The entire collection can then be viewed in Penzance at Lay's saleroom from Saturday, February 24 until Wednesday, February 28, 10am to 5pm before the auction on February 29.