ALFRED WALLIS (1855-1942)
FISHING BOAT OFF A PIER
Signed, oil and pencil on card
Irregular shape, 13.5 x 22cm approx.
Provenance: A gift from Harold Stanley `Jim` Ede to Christopher Mason in the 1950's; thence by descent.
Christopher Mason (1928-2018) was married to the artist Joanna Carrington (1931-2003), niece of Dora Carrington. He was a film maker, writer and painter and made a film about Alfred Wallis as well as two about the Bloomsbury Group. Mason met Jim Ede in 1955 through a musician friend called Etienne Amyot. At that time, Ede was Wallis's most devoted collector. At Ede's meticulously furnished home, Les Charlottieres near Blois on the River Loire, Mason saw works by Wallis for the first time. Mason records in his memoir that Ede opened an oak armoire and, "falling to the floor in a shower came at least fifty pieces of cardboard, each one an Alfred Wallis painting." Munificently, Ede invited Mason to choose one. Mason writes, "I have the painting in front of me as I write. It depicts a small sailing boat entering harbour. In ancient Egypt, I would have wanted it with me in my tomb." The two men remained friends and Ede was a vital and valued contributor to Mason's short film about Wallis in 1973, entitled Alfred Wallis - Artist and Mariner.
Alfred Wallis started painting in 1925 at the age of seventy. From memory, he painted the experiences of sea voyages and the ships and fishing boats he had sailed on in his early life. He went to sea in his youth and spent many years working as a seaman aboard merchant sailing vessels. In the early 1880s he worked as a fisherman with the Newlyn and Mousehole fishing fleets aboard just such vessels as the one depicted.
Wallis's pictures are rich in nautical, historical and geographical detail and contain a wealth of knowledge about a way of life that has gone forever. In this painting Wallis recalls a Cornish lugsail fishing boat with its distinctive outrigger and topsail. Through his paintings of these fishing boats Wallis reveals an intimate understanding of the working methods of these vessels, knowledge which could only have come from personal experience. He was to tap these experiences and memories many years later when he began to paint. During the spring and summer, Cornish luggers fished for mackerel and pilchards around the Cornish coast. In autumn a fleet of Cornish boats took their nets and made their way up the Irish Sea, fishing for herring, landing their catch in British and Irish ports. Then, travelling through the Caledonian Canal into the North Sea, they worked their way down the east coast, following the shoals of herring. Wallis was a part of this fishery and he inscribed on the back of one painting that he was seasick until they reached Scarborough.
`Fishing Boat off a Pier`, made with just two colours and painted on a piece of old card, shows how effectively Wallis has used the original colour of the board as part of the work and the shape of the board reminds us that the painting is not just a depiction but is, in itself, an object; an idea that was not lost on the St Ives modernists. There is a direct link between Wallis's work and the abstract art that was to follow.
After Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood's discovery of Wallis in St Ives, Ben and Winifred Nicholson stayed in the town for three weeks in1928. On their return to Dulwich, they regularly received parcels of paintings from Wallis by post. The Nicholsons introduced his work to others and included his paintings along with theirs in exhibitions in London. Also, Ben Nicholson gave one of Wallis's paintings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Importantly, they introduced his work to Jim Ede, then a junior curator at the Tate in London. Ede received a great many paintings from Wallis and often gave some to friends as presents, as was the case with this painting. The collection he made forms the bas
£8000 - £12000