RARELY seen sketchbooks by Norman Cornish will feature in a new exhibition, offering an intimate insight into the work and mind of the late North-East artist.

Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks will be at Palace Green Library, in Durham, from Saturday, November 16 until February 23, 2020.

It is one of a number of events being held to mark the centenary of his birth which will also see the first major retrospective of his work held at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, with 60 works including pastels, charcoals and oil paintings from public and private collections.

Mr Cornish was born in Spennymoor, County Durham, and worked as a coal miner for 33 years before becoming a fulltime artist in 1966.

His artworks documenting life in the county’s pit villages are both critically acclaimed and hugely popular.

Before his death in 2014, Mr Cornish said he hoped his sketchbooks would “have a life of their own and be of interest to people”.

His studio, at his home in Spennymoor, contained 269 sketchbooks, containing a huge range of images from quick sketches to finished drawings.

The Palace Green exhibition, in the Dennyson Stoddart Gallery, features some of those treasures, focusing on his observations of life, landscapes and family.

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.”

The artist’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.”

Entry costs £2 for adults, £1 for concessions and is free for children under five and Durham University staff and students. Group rates are also available.

Palace Green Library is open daily from 10am to 5pm, with last entry at 4.30pm.

Accompanying the exhibition, there will be a series of talks, events and family activities including:

November 16 and 17: Norman Cornish Collage. An opportunity for the whole family to make a collage inspired by Norman Cornish’s art.

November 23 and 24: Northern Poets. A poetry workshop for all ages, inspired by Norman Cornish’s art.

Wednesday 27 November: Norman Cornish: Sketching Pub Tour. Explore the pub scenes of Durham as Norman Cornish did.

January 25, February 1, 8 and 15: The Alternative Drawing School. An open and collaborative four-week drawing course led by local artist Paul Raymond.

Saturday 8 February: Behind the Scenes: Norman Cornish Sketchbooks. Join Norman Cornish’s son-in-law Mike Thornton for a special illustrated lecture exploring the development of Norman Cornish’s work.

The Norman Cornish Centenary Exhibition programme is supported by Durham County Council and Arts Council England National Lottery Fund.