NORMAN Cornish, the Pitman Painter who in his own words was an artist who happened to be a miner, was tonight described as one of the greatest draughtsmen Britain has ever produced, following his death at the age of 94.

Mr Cornish, of Spennymoor, County Durham, worked underground for 33 years, and spent his life painting images of North-East pit communities.

Along with fellow County Durham artists, such as Tom McGuinness, of Bishop Auckland, he became known as one of the Pitman Painters - despite his strong dislike for the name.

Loading article content

His work has been likened to that of LS Lowry, who painted working class images of Salford, Manchester.

A statement on Mr Cornish's website confirmed he died peacefully on Friday. His funeral will be a private service for family members and close friends.

Bob McManners, of Bishop Auckland, who along with Gillian Wales wrote a biography of the artist, The Quintessential Cornish, said: “He saw himself as an artist who happened to be a miner but he hated the title of Pitman Painters.

“He worked in the Dean and Chapter Colliery, at Ferryhill, County Durham, for many years until 1966 when he decided to pursue a full-time art career.

“He was a wonderful draughtsman who could pick up people’s attitudes and characteristics in a few strokes. He encapsulated a time which has gone.

“Norman was a great influence on a lot of people including me.

“I think he’s one of the greatest artists which Britain produced in the late 20th century and some of his bigger works can sell for up to £30,000.”

Ms Wales added: “The important thing about his work is that there’s an honesty to it. It expresses the reality of the miners’ lives.

“He sketched so wonderfully from life and he is one of the most important North-East artists.”

Mr Cornish attended the Spennymoor Settlement, a voluntary group set up to help miners, from the age of 15 where he came under the tutorage of Bill Farrell.

Malcolm Marsden, secretary of the settlement, said: “He obviously had talent when he came to the settlement and Bill Farrell told him to draw what he saw and he did.

“He drew people round him in pubs playing dominos and darts and in the street and people could recognise themselves in his paintings.

“He didn’t like to be known as a Pitman Painter but he is one of the original Pitman Painters.

“He always carried a pad with him and if something caught his eye out it would come and he would sketch them. Sometimes they ended up in his paintings.

“He was a great character and he will be greatly missed. People knew about Norman Cornish even if they didn’t know about Spennymoor.”

Artist John Smith, 38, of Spennymoor, was inspired to take up painting after he saw a display of work by several of the Pitman Painters including Mr Cornish.

Mr Smith, who works for Spennymoor Town Council, said: “He was such a great man and he was an inspiration to all painters in the North-East.

“I was 14 when I first saw his work on show at Spennymoor Town Hall and it provided an inspiration for me and my artwork.

“I used to see him in Spennymoor and my sincere condolences to his family.”

*A book of condolence will be available at Northumbria University Gallery from Tuesday. Tributes can also be sent by email to for anyone who is not able to attend.