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‘In Focus: Alfred Wallis’
With works from the Kettle's Yard Collection, University of Cambridge
1 February – 23 April 2014
Complementing ‘Jerwood Collection: Revealed’exhibition will be a single room display profiling the work of Alfred Wallis (1855–1942).
Despite his lack of formal training and his reclusive lifestyle, Wallis was a key figure in 20th-century British art. His naive style had a profound effect and influence on a number of the St Ives artists, particularly Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. This exhibition, inspired by the Jerwood Collection’s work Two Boats, will feature a selection of Wallis’ seascapes, generously lent by Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge.
Wallis was born in Devonport, Plymouth in 1855. On leaving school Alfred was apprenticed to a basket-maker before becoming a mariner in the merchant service by the early 1870s. He sailed on schooners across the North Atlantic between Penzance and Newfoundland. He settled in Penzance in the late 1870s and in 1876 married Susan Ward, 13 years his senior. Wallis worked for a time as a labourer before setting up as a marine scrap merchant in St Ives in the late 1880s. After Susan’s death in 1922, Wallis took up painting ‘for company’ using household paints on pieces of card. His subject matter was principally preoccupied with ships at sea, the Cornish coastline and also sometimes houses and trees. In 1928 the modernist artists Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson ‘discovered’ Wallis as they passed his house and saw his paintings. This led to an introduction to Jim Ede who collected a number of Wallis’s paintings, now on display at Kettle’s Yard, and his work being included in the ‘7 & 5 Society’ exhibition in 1929. Although Wallis’ work was admired by a number of people and proved to be extremely influential on artists, including Wood and Nicholson, he was lonely and felt isolated from the local St Ives community. In his old age, when his physical and mental health declined, he was moved to a workhouse, where he died in 1942. In 1950 a retrospective exhibition was held at Bournemouth and in 1958 another one, organized by the Arts Council, was held at the Tate Gallery.