Christopher Wood

A Fishing Boat in Dieppe Harbour


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Christopher Wood 1901–1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 650 × 810 × 19 mm
frame: 743 × 904 × 70 mm
Bequeathed by Winifred Le Roy 2001


In 1929 Wood wrote to his mother that he had found 'a very good painting place' (Ingleby, p.213). He was writing from Dieppe where he had arrived a few days earlier with his friend Frosca Munster. The Normandy port, renowned for its scallops and herrings brought in by the fishing fleet, had attracted many artists, notably Walter Sickert (1862-1942) who had painted the buildings of the town, and Georges Braque (1882-1963). Braque had visited Dieppe in 1928, and built a house and a small studio in nearby Varengeville the following year. He painted the foreshore and studies of small boats, which Wood may have seen. Furthermore Dieppe would have reminded Wood of St Ives, where he had stayed with his friends Ben (1894-1982) and Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) a few months earlier. There he had become fascinated with boats and the traditional life of fishing communities, a subject that was to become a recurring theme in his paintings during his last years.

A Fishing Boat in Dieppe Harbour is characteristic of many of Wood's paintings from the late 1920s. Many art historians, including Charles Harrison, have made comparisons between these paintings and the work of Alfred Wallis (1855-1942). Wood had met Wallis, a reclusive seventy year old Cornish fisherman, whilst staying in St Ives in 1928. Harrison suggests that, following frequent visits to Wallis's studio to see his naïve paintings of sailing boats on irregular shaped pieces of cardboard and wood, Wood's paintings became 'more robust in shape and colour' (Harrison, p.189). Wood's interest in the design of Wallis's little pictures is evident from the manner in which he allows the boat to dominate the composition. In addition, as Ingleby remarked, the boat 'is poised at an angle to the sea, like an object on a table top' (Ingleby, p.213). This enabled Wood, who himself was an experienced sailor, to include details of the equipment and rigging. Behind the harbour wall he paints the tall cliffs, the homes of the fishermen in Le Pollet and a weather vane, which appears to be out of scale to the rest of the scene. In contrast to many of the pictures Wood made at Dieppe, in which he used a neutral palette of black, white, greys and creams, A Fishing Boat in Dieppe Harbour is richly coloured. The turquoise sea and threatening grey sky contrasts with the brightly coloured houses and yellow wooden boards in the boat.

A preparatory drawing for this painting in the collection of Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums reveals that, despite its childlike appearance, Wood thought carefully about the composition of the finished work. Sophie Barthelemy suggests that he 'integrated it [the boat] fully into a complex interplay of lines, and colours values, creating a composition that is at once densely structured and rigorously simplified' (Barthelemy, p.34).

Further reading:
Sophie Barthelemy, 'Fishing-boat, Dieppe', Christopher Wood: A Painter Between Two Cornwalls, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery St Ives, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper, 1996, p.34
Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism 1900-1939, New Haven and London, 1994
Richard Ingleby, Christopher Wood: An English Painter, London, 1995, p.213, reproduced pl. 27 in colour

Heather Birchall
February 2002

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Display caption

Wood travelled to the Normandy port of Dieppe with his friend Frosca Munster, describing it in a letter to his mother as ‘a very good painting place’. Dieppe attracted many artists to depict the town’s fishing fleets, including Walter Sickert and Georges Braque. In Wood’s picture, the influence of the naïve paintings of the St Ives artist Alfred Wallis (whom Wood met in 1928) may be observed in, for example, the scale of the boat in relation to the surrounding landscape and the receding line of houses on the shore.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Technique and condition

The painting has been executed in oil paint on stretched, primed canvas It is framed in a deep moulded wooden frame painted with off-white housepaint.

The artist did not prepare his own support but acquired it ready-stretched, sized and primed on a French fixed wooden strainer. The priming is probably oil, it is well-bodied but thinly-applied to create a smooth surface. The artist drew out the design probably in pencil and then filled in the regions with oil paint, probably artist's tube paint.

In each pre-defined area the paint appears to have been used directly from the tube in simple mixtures of a basic colour and white. Linear detail is painted on top with a thin round brush. In the townscape these lines are added after the underlying paint was dry but in the nets and baskets the artist worked into wet paint, pushing and scoring through the pasty surface with his brush. In this way he carved coloured ripples and waves into the paint. The sky and the cliffs are created from heavy applications of thick paint brushed in short staccato strokes. Similarly, the sea, which was the last part to be painted, is filled in methodically in green and various quantities of white and blue.

The paint is distorted by a thin layer of loosely applied natural resin varnish, which has now yellowed and is covered by a layer of black surface dirt. There is a small amount of overpaint at one corner but otherwise the painting is in very good condition.

Mary A. Bustin
January 2002

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