Alfred Wallis was close to the sea for most of his life, living on the English coast or working on board ships, or as a merchant of marine equipment. However, he would become best known for his paintings of coastal life and maritime subjects from Cornwall, and become renowned as one of England’s most well known Naïve painters.
Wallis was born to a poor family, and during his youth, lived a shipboard life, working as a cook and cabin boy. He married at the age of twenty, taking a bride who was forty-seven years old and already mother to seventeen children. They settled in the port town of St. Ives where they ran a marine supply store.
The death of his wife in 1922 prompted Wallis to begin painting, ostensibly out of loneliness and boredom. His subjects focus on the town of St. Ives, but most notably on the sea. His renderings of ships, painted in an elegantly modernist style, are remarkably accurate in their detail. Considered to be one of the most influential Naïves, Wallis’ work had a tremendous impact on the renowned English artists, Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. They happened to come upon Wallis painting in his small cottage in St. Ives one day, and instantly became admirers and staunch advocates of his uninhibited expression.
Despite his artistic influence and admirers, Wallis died poor. He spent the end of his life in a public workhouse, and passed away in 1942. Today, Wallis is shown in galleries of modern art and he is a prominent artist at the Tate St. Ives.
Berlin, Sven. Alfred Wallis: Primitive. Bristol: Redcliffe Press Ltd., 1992.
Everett, Peter. The Voyages of Alfred Wallis. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999.
Gale, Matthew. Alfred Wallis. London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 1998.
Jones, Robert. Alfred Wallis: Artist and Mariner. Devon: Halsgrove, 2001.
Mullins, Edwin. Alfred Wallis: Cornish Primitive Painter. London: Macdonald, 1967.
---. Alfred Wallis: Cornish Primitive. London: Pavilion Books Limited, 1994.
Two Painters: Works by Alfred Wallis and James Dixon. Catalogue essays by Richard Ingleby and Matthew Gale. Irish Museum of Modern Art, Tate Gallery St. Ives, and Merrell Holberton Publishers Limited, 1999.
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