Christopher Wood

Church at Tréboul


Image released under

License this image

Christopher Wood 1901–1930
Oil paint on board
Support: 730 × 916 mm
frame: 983 × 1170 × 115 mm
Presented by Dr and Mrs Lucius Wood, the artist's parents, through the Contemporary Art Society 1930

Display caption

Wood spent June and July 1930 painting in Brittany, basing himself in Tréboul, close to Douarnenez. This area was popular with both British and French painters and was close to Pont-Aven, which had been made famous by Gauguin whose work, together with that of Van Gogh, was important to Wood. In the space of 40 days Wood painted some 60 canvases both from life and, at night, from postcards, mostly depicting scenes from the daily lives of the fishing community. Moving from the depiction of boats to architecture he claimed helped him to paint a ‘quieter composition’.

Gallery label, September 2016

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Christopher Wood (1900-30)

N04552 Church at Tréboul 1930

Oil on board 730 x 916 (28 3/4 x 36)

Inscribed on back in another hand upside down in chalk 'C. WOOD' across upper centre; and '"P"+STR' ascending centre

Presented by Dr and Mrs Lucius Wood, the artist's parents, through the Contemporary Art Society 1930

Church at Tréboul was painted on poor quality soft millboard, which has been scuffed and damaged at the edges. The thick ground of white commercial oil was applied with a decorator's brush. It is consistent with the artist's own preparations of similar boards which he used in the last years of his life, especially when away from his studio. The paint layer combines artist's and decorator's oil. The figures were painted quite thickly but, typically of Wood, the exposed ground and underdrawing are visible on the apse of the choir. A number of small abrasions and losses in the sky and the roof of the church have required restoration.

Wood spent periods during the summers of 1929 and 1930 painting in Douarnenez and Tréboul in Brittany. During the second stay at Tréboul in June-July 1930, he was tremendously productive; Newton (1938, pp.74-7) lists three dozen Breton paintings for that year. At the beginning of this stay Wood wrote from the Hotel Ty-Mad describing his plans to his mother:

I expect I shall be here at least 6 weeks as I want to do my very best work possible. It is extraordinary how I have to hurry hurry from one thing to another, but its just the one moment or chance I have to get one, and for everyone else it seems almost impossible, quite apart from making a possible living.
(12 June 1930 TGA 773.10)

This urgency was brought on by the prospective exhibition at Lucy Wertheim's Gallery in London in October.

Church at Tréboul followed the preparatory drawing, Study for 'Church at Tréboul' (q.v.) and it is probable that they were both made during this period. Wood gave his mother a glimpse of his working arrangements: 'I have to have two rooms on account of the smell of the paint. They are charming simple rooms with a table, chair, nice clean bed with white cover, a wash basin with running water and white walls peints à la chaux and they are cheerful.' (11 July 1930, TGA 773.10.) This and other comments suggest that he did not paint outside, but enlarged his paintings from drawings made on the spot or even from post cards on which he made colour notes; an example of the latter is held in the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 723 **). This reduces the possibility that the painting was made from the drawing at some stage between the two stays in Brittany, as has previously been suggested. It is notable that Church at Tréboul is not recorded as having been in Wood's show at the Galerie Bernheim in May 1930, and this would indicate either that he did not consider it worthy of inclusion or that it had not yet been completed.

The church has been identified by Sophie Barthelemy of the Musée de Quimper (letter to the compiler 12 March 1996) as that of Saint-Joseph in Tréboul. Designed by the architect J.M. Abgrall in 1881 and bearing the dedication date 'XIX 8bre 1884' over the main portal, it was built as the parochial church to replace the Chapelle Saint-Jean which had become too small. Barthelemy has indicated that Wood must have made his study from the garden of the presbytery opposite.

The painting differs from the drawing in a number of particulars. The details of the architecture are repeated, but the general viewpoint appears to be further back and from a slightly more elevated position. Although familiar to the painter, the adjusted view would probably have required other drawings in addition to Study for 'Church at Tréboul', as it includes the whole of the spire and a broader view of the houses to either side. The effect is of less concentration upon the church and a greater sense of its position within the village. This was primarily a physical presence, and Wood repeated the contrast found in the drawing between the detail of the village and the open sky above and wall below. That this juxtaposition interested Wood is confirmed by the slightly smaller Tréboul Church (Leeds City Art Gallery; repr. Christopher Wood, The Last Years, exh. cat., Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance, 1989-90, p.24 no.81). It is seen from further to the left, with the tower diminished in relation to the bulk of the southern flank of the building, but with the white wall assuming its important compositional role.

The expansion of the context of the church may also be seen as emphasising a spiritual centrality. Wood showed his concern with the places of devotion within the Breton communities in paintings such as Breton Women at Prayer (1930, Southampton Art Gallery, repr. ibid., p.23 no.75). While there is a sophisticated fascination with the religious fervency and superstition of the peasants, there is also a suggestion of admiration for the simplicity of belief. The introduction of the figures in pairs of contrasting ages in Church at Tréboul (which constitutes the most important change from the drawing) may be seen as part of this concern. Like the boats in the Leeds painting (which have been introduced despite being some distance from the sea), they are sheltered by the wall below the church. They wear local costumes and are drawn in a deliberately faux naif style. It is in these details that the imaginative painting contrasts most tellingly with the drawing made on the spot.

The simplicity of style and subject in Wood's Breton paintings made them easily acceptable to a broad audience. Church at Tréboul entered the collection in the year of his death, as a gift from his parents and through the CAS, whose board included friends of his such as Sir Edward Marsh and H.S. Ede. It served, in effect, as a public memorial to the young painter.

106th Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, April-Aug. 1932 (298), as Tréboul Church, Brittany
Modern British Pictures, BC tour, 1946-7, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris (120), Berne (123), Vienna (124), Prague (123), Warsaw (124), Rome (123 p. 43), all repr. (reversed) as Brittany Landscape
Continental Exhibition, Tate Gallery, 1947 (no number, repr. fig.14, in reverse, as Brittany Landscape)
Modern British Pictures, AC tour 1947 (75, repr. in reverse, as Brittany Landscape)
Christopher Wood, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, June-July 1966 (29)
Christopher Wood, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, July-Aug. 1974 (27)
Christopher Wood: The Last Years 1928-1930, Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance, Oct.-Nov. 1989, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Dec. 1989 - Jan. 1990, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Jan.-March 1990, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, March-April 1990 (80)
British Contemporary Art 1910-1990, Eighty Years of Collecting by the Contemporary Art Society, Hayward Gallery, Dec. 1991 - Jan. 1992, City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, March-May, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, May-June, (no number, repr. in col. p.46)
Christopher Wood: A Painter between Two Cornwalls, Tate Gallery St Ives, Nov. 1996 - April. 1997, Musée des beaux arts, Quimper, May - Aug. 1997 (32, repr. in col p.54)

Newton 1938, p.74 no.427
Hesketh Hubbard, One Hundred Years of British Painting 1851-1951, 1951, p.275, pl.118, as Brittany Landscape
Patrick Heron, 'The Necessity of Distortion in Painting' (lecture, University of Leeds, Oct. 1949) in The Changing Forms of Art, 1955, p.14, pl.3
Morphet 1967, p.11, pl.13; M[atthew] R[owe], 'Church at Tréboul', Christopher Wood: A Painter between Two Cornwalls, exh. cat. Tate Gallery St Ives, Musée des beaux arts, Quimper, 1996 p.54 repr.

Also reproduced:
John Russell, From Sickert to 1948, 1948, p.59 pl.50, as Brittany Landscape
Eric Newton, Christopher Wood, 1959, pl.5
Alan Bowness, British Contemporary Art 1910-1990: Eighty Years of Collecting by the Contemporary Art Society, 1991, p.46 (col.)

Matthew Gale
April 1996

You might like

In the shop