Nurse puts childhood portrait painted by by Norman Cornish up for auction

A portrait of a woman as a young girl which was painted by Spennymoor artist Norman Cornish will be sold at auction on Tuesday

Fiona Coia, painted in 1970 by Norman Cornish
Fiona Coia, painted in 1970 by Norman Cornish

Clinical teacher Fiona Coia will be parting with a piece of her childhood when she turns up at an auction on Tyneside today.

When she was seven in 1970, Fiona’s portrait was drawn in pastel by now-celebrated County Durham artist Norman Cornish.

Fiona’s father, teacher Tony Coia, was a friend of Norman Cornish from Spennymoor and had commissioned portraits from him of Fiona and her younger sister Barbara, who lives in West Auckland, County Durham.

Now Fiona, 51, is selling her portrait at Anderson & Garland’s Contemporary Modern Art sale in Newcastle, with a bidding estimate of £600-£900.

Fiona now lives in Wakefield in West Yorkshire. She qualified as a nurse and teaches medical students.

She said her father, who still lives in Tudhoe in County Durham, and Norman had been friends for many years before he made the painting of her.

“I was only seven at the time and I have vague memories of two of three sittings for the portrait,” she said.

“I remember I wasn’t allowed to smile. I smile quite a bit in real life so that was quite difficult.”

Fiona Coia
Fiona Coia

Norman Cornish has gone on to win acclaim for his work, much of it portraying life in his native Spennymoor and the mining industry.

Fiona said: “Norman has done so much for the North East and for mining and I decided to hand on the portrait to someone who would appreciate his work.

“He is fantastic – a lovely man who I have known for years.

“I am quite a modest person so it was quite strange to have my portrait done by such a celebrated artist.”

The Coia and Cornish families were old friends and it was Tony’s father who tried to persuade Norman’s father to allow him to stay on at school, according to the book The Quintessential Cornish.

Norman also provided illustrations for Tony’s local history publications.

The sale also features four other Cornish paintings, including his study of a man and greyhound in a bar, rated at £4,000-£7,000 and a colliery nightshift in Spennymoor which is priced at £2,000-£3,500.


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