Acclaimed artist’s little-seen sketchbooks to be exhibited at Durham University


Little-seen sketchbooks by Norman Cornish will offer an intimate insight into the work and mind of the acclaimed and hugely popular North East artist when a new exhibition celebrating the centenary of his birth opens later this month.

Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks’ will be at Palace Green Library, Durham University, from Saturday 16 November until February 2020.  Norman Cornish, born in Spennymoor, County Durham in November 1919, was an artist who began his career while still working as a coal miner and who vividly captured the lives of the mining community in which he lived.

Before his death in 2014, he expressed his hope that his sketchbooks would “have a life of their own and be of interest to people”. His Spennymoor home studio contained 269 sketchbooks, containing a huge range of images from quick sketches to finished drawings.


Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks’ features some of these treasures, focusing on his observations of life, landscapes and family, offering an intimate insight into his personal thoughts and reflections. Some of the 50 sketchbooks and loose drawings also link directly to paintings featured in the exhibition, showing the progression from an initial observation through a series of steps to a finished work.



Liz Waller, Director of Library and Collections at Durham University, said: “Norman Cornish is an icon of North East life and art. We feel honoured to be part of celebrating the centenary of his birth and privileged to be hosting this very special exhibition.

“We’re sure it will be of interest to both art enthusiasts and those who fondly remember the period Norman painted. We’re also looking forward to helping introduce a new generation to his work and we’ll be running workshops and family-friendly events to assist this.”

Norman Cornish’s son, John Cornish, said: “My father’s sketchbooks offer an extraordinary insight into his world.  For him, drawing was a compulsion; in his words sketching was ‘an itch that he had to scratch’.

“His sketchbooks contain a wealth of interesting images, including spontaneous character studies, bar scenes and so much more. Some sketches are preparatory pieces for the larger paintings on show in the exhibition.”

Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks’ will be in the Dennyson Stoddart Gallery at Palace Green Library, Durham University, from Saturday 16 November until Sunday 23 February.


This exhibition is part of a centenary programme which features five other exhibitions across Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe and Barnard Castle. Full details of those exhibitions can be found here –