In my previous posts about St Ives, in western Cornwall, I mentioned a good many of its attractions:
I also mentioned Alfred Wallis, the most famous artist to have lived and worked there. Alfred was born in Devon in 1855 but moved with his parents to Penzance at quite an early age. He became a deep sea fisherman and sailed on trawlers as far away as Newfoundland. When he was 20 he married Susan Ward who was then 41 years of age. Alfred still worked as a fisherman, but on land he was also a labourer and a dealer in marine supplies. Around this time, the family all moved to St Ives. As he grew older, Alfred worked for a local antique seller and it was perhaps this which pointed him towards painting. After his wife died in 1922, he began to paint, making use of the limited number of colours available in chandlers’ shops to paint ships and boats. Here he is as an old man and a young artist:
Instead of canvas, Alfred made use of scraps of cardboard which had been used as packaging.
Here are some of his paintings. This is called “Windjammer and Cutter”:
This is called “Four luggers leaving a harbour”:
This one is “Wreck of the Alba”. It is possible to recognise Godrevy Island, the beach at Porthmeor, and The Island with the Coast Guard Lookout:
“The Hold House Port Meor Island” also has recognisable features of St Ives such as Porthmeor Beach, The Island with St Nicholas Chapel on the top as well as Wallis’ own house:
Here is the map of these two paintings. The white area at the top is called “The Island”:
Here is Alfred’s rather unusual grave in Porthmeor Cemetery which overlooks the sea to the west of the word “(w)ater” on the map:
Here is the top, created in ceramic tiles by Bernard Leach:
One of the paintings above, and Wallis’ grave, both carry illustrations of a lighthouse. It is on Godrevy Island, a view which I have birdwatched for countless hundreds of hours over the years:
To study Wallis, your first port of call should be the Great Mother of Us All After that, many of his paintings can be viewed at the Tate St Ives, which again, has a beautiful view over the Atlantic Ocean.
I have used some of these paintings at the Tate St Ives to illustrate this little introduction. If you are going to Cornwall this summer, make sure that you go there and check out this wonderful old man’s paintings. It’s certainly time better spent than wandering around the interminable surf shops and fast food eateries that are being allowed to spoil one of Britain’s most beautiful places.
8 responses to “The Starfish Thrower (4)”
A fascinating post about a fascinating artist. The Hair By Frank photo with the balding man is priceless
Yes, and when we went back to his shop the following year, he was still in business, although I was sorry to see that his hair hadn’t grown back.
Nice pictures but this reminded me of a visit that I made to Paris in 1990. I went with a group of work colleagues, we had just lost our jobs in local government through compulsory competitive tendering and were going our separate ways and decided on something special to mark the occasion. Whilst there we visited the Louvre museum and like everyone else went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa. My friend Martin spent a few seconds gazing at what is possibly the world’s most famous masterpiece and then declared, “It’s ok but I wouldn’t want it hanging in my front room!”
I can understand that, but what I like is that Wallis is a completely self taught artist with no input whatsoever from anybody who told him “This is the way to paint”. He was also as poor as we can imagine which is why he cadged paint from a chandler’s shop and painted on cardboard. The result is an artist who reminds me a lot of Native Americans and how they draw and paint. I also enjoy puzzling out what features of St Ives are on his paintings, such as the pier, the church and the other locations we have visited.
A painter who is self taught develops their own unique style, something that Wallis has done well; although I do get a slight sense a Lowry here. A fascinating post John.
Dear Sir, thank you so much, I learn so much from your posts. That island looks so beautiful.
I am glad to be of service! Godrevy Island is indeed very beautiful. There used to be men on it years ago, but nowadays, the light is automatic. People are not allowed to land on the island any more because it is a nature reserve and lots of seabirds breed on it.
I am glad people are not allowed there 🙂