Alfred Wallis

St Ives


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Alfred Wallis 1855–1942
Oil paint, graphite and crayon on cardboard
Support: 257 × 384 mm
frame: 355 × 455 × 44 mm
Presented by Ben Nicholson 1966

Online caption

Wallis had worked as seaman, ice cream vendor and scrap merchant before he took up painting as a hobby in his retirement. He lived in St Ives, Cornwall, a fishing community and artists’ colony. There he encountered the painters Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood and his work was shown with theirs in London. Most of his paintings are of his local environment or of places and events remembered from his past.

Catalogue entry

Alfred Wallis 1855–1942

T00881 St.Ives c.1928

Not inscribed on front (reverse not seen).
Oil, pencil and crayon on cardboard, 10¿ x 15¿ (25.7 x 38.4).
Presented by Ben Nicholson 1966.
Coll. Given to Ben Nicholson by the artist 1928.
Exh. Possibly the ‘ “St. Ives” (painted before August 1928)’ lent by Ben Nicholson to Alfred Wallis, Bournemouth Arts Club, August–September 1950 (33).
Repr. Horizon, VII, No. 37, 1943 (between pp. 48 and 49); Edwin Mullins, Alfred Wallis, 1967, pl. 1 (in colour).

The painting is mounted on white-painted board, measuring 12¼ x 16¿ (31.1 x 41)· inscribed on the reverse by Ben Nicholson: ‘St Ives/by Alfred Wallis/(painted before Aug – 1928) – on first visit with Kit Wood –/ (&given to BN in [arrow here points back to “Aug. 1928”] by Wallis/belonging to Nicholson/Chyankerris/Carbis Bay/Cornwall’. Ben Nicholson has recorded in his memoir on ‘Alfred Wallis’ (Horizon, January 1943, pp. 50–54), that ‘In August 1928 I went over for the day to St. Ives with Kit Wood : this was an exciting day, for not only was it the first time I saw St. Ives, but on the way back from Porthmeor Beach we passed an open door in Back Road West and through it saw some paintings of ships and houses on odd pieces of paper and cardboard nailed up all over the wall, with particularly large nails through the smallest ones. We knocked on the door and inside found Wallis, and the paintings we got from him then were the first he made.’ Nicholson also records (loc. cit. p. 52) that ‘when looking at one of these paintings of houses into which he put so much affection... he said “Houses - houses – I don’t like houses – give me a ship and you can take all the houses in the world!”’.

Mullins (op. cit) cites four among the larger number of Wallises ‘of the town of St. Ives, in which generally the central image is a curious-shaped house (it is in Porthmeor Square near Wallis’s own house). The house is always depicted from the same angle, but the rest of St. Ives is arranged around it depending entirely on what he wished to emphasise’. This house is the largest feature in the present composition ; it appears also in ‘Houses at St. Ives’ (T00239), presented by Ben Nicholson in 1959.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.

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