Lakes Culture - a new project aiming to establish the arts destination in the region

Abbot Hall Collection - J.M.W.Turner Windermere 1821

Abbot Hall Collection - J.M.W.Turner Windermere 1821 - Credit: Archant

A campaign is underway to highlight the rich artistic and cultural heritage of this world-class destination

Farington Furness Abbey courtesy of Dove Cottage The Wordsworth Museum

Farington Furness Abbey courtesy of Dove Cottage The Wordsworth Museum - Credit: Archant

We all know the Lake District is one of the loveliest regions in the world but the depth of its artistic and cultural heritage sometimes get lost in the rush to put on our boots and hike across the fells.

That’s all about to change with a new project called Lakes Culture, which sets out to challenge perceptions and establish it as the UK’s ‘must visit’ destination for anyone interested in art and culture.

The project, supported by the Arts Council and VisitEngland, is already making great inroads and the team behind it are about to raise the tempo as they finalise arrangements for their latest arts happening, ‘Lakes Ignite’. This is a programme designed to highlight the wealth of cultural events on offer across the region from 6th April until 26th May.

To understand how the Lakes developed we need to take a trip back in time to understand how this world renowned landscape has inspired artists over the generations.

Seagulls Over a Ploughed Field Sheila Fell with kind permission of Anna Fell & Castlegate House Gall

Seagulls Over a Ploughed Field Sheila Fell with kind permission of Anna Fell & Castlegate House Gallery - Credit: Archant

Prior to the late 17th century rugged, mountainous regions were places to be feared. This began to change with the advent of The Grand Tour, popular from 1660 through to the Napoleonic Wars. The Tour was considered to be the best way to complete a gentleman’s education, and these young members of society were exposed to the Alpine mountain regions. Gradually, they began to appreciate their beauty and grandeur, indeed many started to romanticise them in word and art.

This new understanding quickly filtered through into English thinking. Things really started to take off when in 1769 Thomas Gray made a tour of the English Lakes, and recorded his travels in a journal - now widely accepted as the first example of modern travel writing. Landscape painter Joseph Farington RA followed in his footsteps and painted the places Gray described in his guide.

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The rest is, as you might say, is history. They were soon followed by the likes of John Varley and John Constable and in 1816 J.M.W. Turner painted the inspiring view from St Mary’s Churchyard, Kirkby Lonsdale.

The steady flow of artists continues today with a huge range influenced by the stunning landscapes. Many of their works can be found in galleries across the county including Abbot Hall in Kendal, Tullie House in Carlisle, Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth, Dove Cottage, The Wordsworth Museum and the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere, The Armitt in Ambleside and Brantwood at Coniston.

Modernists such as L.S. Lowry painted seascapes along the west coast and industrial landscapes at Cleator Moor, Workington and Maryport. Another landscape great was ‘troubled genius’ Percy Kelly, a native of the Western Lake District. He was feted by many including Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret but he shunned the limelight. Only now is his work receiving the acclaim it deserves for its linear, graphic and simple style. You can follow a series of trails to discover where it all started at

Then there is the Heaton Cooper dynasty - Lancashire-born Alfred was one of the most venerated of the Victorian landscape artists. William was became a notable English impressionistic landscape artist, becoming one of the most celebrated British landscape artists of the 20th century. Then there is Julian Cooper, an adventurous and innovative painter of mountain forms and textures.

Sheila Fell, who never painted chocolate box pictures of her native countryside, used powerful, melancholy oils of living landscape, presided over by huge brooding mountains and dark clouds. Some of her work can be seen in Tullie House and the Abbot Hall.

One artist you wouldn’t normally associate with landscape forms was one Kurt Schwitters, a key figure in the Dada, Constructivist and Pop Art movements. He arrived in the Lakes in 1945 and settled in Ambleside, establishing his Merz Barn studio in Elterwater. He remained in the Lake District until his death, largely unknown and unrecognised. Some can be found at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.

More recently Ulverston born Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson, who created his acclaimed The Nature Paintings as a direct result of his upbringing in the Lake District. Tullie House has acquired one of these sublime works, which make reference to the history of landscape painting in the region – a mixture of paints, pigments and chemicals which were allowed to interact in specific ways on acid primed aluminium panels.

The stunning natural features of the Lake District inspired these men and women and they, in turn, have given the region a 21th century claim to fame as a centre for the arts.

To find out more about art and culture in the region visit