Alfred Wallis

Boats at Rest in Mount’s Bay

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Not on display

Alfred Wallis 1855–1942
Oil paint on board
Support: 434 × 482 mm
frame: 433 × 487 × 40 mm
Presented by Catherine Gaskin Cornberg 2002


This painting depicts a number of boats lying on the flats at Mount’s Bay in Cornwall. Mount’s Bay is one of a number of places along the Cornish coast, including Falmouth and St Ives that Wallis painted on several occasions. As a fisherman in the 1870s and 1880s, Wallis was familiar with the geography and features of the area surrounding the bay such as the Lizard Light, Mousehole and, of course, St Michael’s Mount which Wallis represents by a cone with a flag on top. In another painting, Mount’s Bay with St Michael’s Mount, Wallis added a metal pole to mark the location of treacherous rocks, one of the many hazards that fisherman had to be aware of when sailing around the bay.

Wallis took up painting in the mid 1920s following the death of his wife, Susan Ward. His paintings, frequently on old scraps of paper and cardboard in house or ship’s paint, are often memories of his experiences as a fisherman, for example fishing boats, lighthouses and seascapes. The simplified form and shallow pictorial space in Boats at Rest in Mount’s Bay is typical of Wallis’s so-called naïve painting style. The unfinished areas of the board are also characteristic, Wallis explained: ‘I Thought it not necessary To paint it all around’ (Gale, p.39). Many artists were attracted by Wallis’s freedom from the received rules of painting. Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Christopher Wood (1901-30) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) were amongst those artists living in St Ives who admired and collected his work. The former remarked: ‘I am more and more influenced by Alfred Wallis – not a bad master though – he and Picasso both mix their colours on box lids! I see him each day for a second, he is bright and cheery. I am surprised that no one likes Wallis’ painting. No one liked Van Gogh’s for a time, did they?’ (quoted in Berlin, p.55)

Several of Wallis’s scenes of Mount’s Bay have been dated recently to the late 1920s and it is possible that this picture, which shares the same simple outlines, is also from this period.

Further reading:

Sven Berlin, Alfred Wallis: Primitive, Bristol 1992

Matthew Gale, Alfred Wallis, London 2001

Robert Jones, Alfred Wallis: Artist and Mariner, Devon 2001

Heather Birchall

December 2002

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Display caption

Alfred Wallis was a seaman, ice cream seller and rag-and-bone man before he took up painting in old age. He said he painted ‘what used to be’ and many of his works depict a remembered past.In 1928 he met professional artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, for whom Wallis’s work represented an instinctive and naïve folk art. As such, Wallis seemed to belong to the tradition of rustic characters common in literature, and represented a link to an apparently timeless English culture.

Gallery label, July 2007

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