Lot 10
  • 10

Christopher Wood

Estimate
120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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Description

  • Christopher Wood
  • Flowers and Lamp in a Cornish Window
  • pencil and oil on board
  • 44.5 by 54cm.; 17½ by 21¼in.
  • Executed in 1928.

Provenance

The Artist's family
Redfern Gallery, London, where acquired by Mrs H.J. Rhodes, March 1936
Austin/Desmond, London, where acquired by the present owner, November 2001

Literature

Eric Newton, Christopher Wood, Redfern Gallery, London, 1938, p.73, cat. no.338.

Catalogue Note

1928 was an exciting year to be an artist in the remote coastal town of St Ives. A world away from the buzzing capital, it became a haven for artists including Ben Nicholson, his wife Winifred and their close friend, the young Christopher Wood. They had met in 1926 – the year Wood first visited St Ives with Tony Gandarillas and a year after he had met Picasso in Paris - and after returning to Britain he stayed with the couple in St Ives in 1928. Whilst walking through the town in that year he and Ben stumbled across the small fisherman’s cottage inhabited by Alfred Wallis. The story of Wood, the Nicholsons and Wallis is such stuff of artist folk lore, and together they irrevocably shaped the course of British art in the early part of the century. Wallis’s naïve paintings of seascapes and fishermen had a profound and lasting impact over the work of Wood and the Nicholsons, and despite the fact that Wood was to tragically take his own life only two years later in 1930, this encounter shaped the work of his final years, resulting in some of his most engaging and attesting paintings.

However it was not just this encounter with Wallis that was to inspire Wood. The rugged and scenic Cornish landscape captivated his imagination and spurred him on to paint. As he wrote: ‘Cornwall is beautiful, rather austere, but I think that if I am here long enough I shall paint good things’ (quoted in Richard Ingleby, Christopher Wood, An English Painter, Allison & Busby, London, 1995, p.133). The seascape in particular was to provide a rich source of inspiration for the artist, and Wood was drawn to painting the waves as seen from indoors, in still life compositions that also allowed him to display his aptitude for rendering inanimate objects with life and vigour. In September 1928 he wrote to his mother:

 ‘I love Cornwall it feels very familiar to me and I think it’s a good spot for my work… The big sailing ships that come here are a great temptation to go off into some unknown’ (quoted in Jovan Nicholson et.al., Art and Life 1920-1931, (exh. cat.), Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2013, p.114).

It was down in Cornwall that Wood produced some of his now best known works, such as Anemones in a Cornish Window (1930, Leeds City Art Gallery) and A Cornish Window (1928, Private Collection). These still life compositions display the close affinities that Wood shared with the work of Winifred Nicholson, who had developed her favoured arrangement of placing flowers in the immediate foreground looking on to the landscape beyond as early as 1922. Like Winifred he often used and reused the same selection of vases, objects or trinkets in different paintings, and the present work takes an almost identical perspective to A Cornish Window (1928, Private Collection), with the vase of flowers replaced by fireworks and smaller oil burners, at once so reminiscent of Ben Nicholson's 1929 (fireworks) (The Pier Art Centre, Orkney). Wood was a skilled painter of still life compositions, and brought to them the bold, confident brushstrokes that he had seen in the work of Van Gogh when he was in Paris in the 1920s. In Flowers and Lamp in a Cornish Window the paint is applied freely and generously, with gentle strokes that masterfully capture every tilting stem and curling leaf. The flowers are gathered in an informal bouquet, squeezed into the thin neck of a green earthenware vase, which could well have come from the local pottery of Bernard Leach, established in St Ives in 1920. Wood uses bold black lines on the sill looking onto the tranquil waters beyond, with two steam boats disappearing over the horizon. There is a wonderful sense of movement to the work, with the curtain on the far right blowing in some unseen breeze.

 

Wood was only 29 when he took his own life at Salisbury train station, leaving behind not only a large group of friends, that included the Nicholsons, but also his mother and sister, to whom he had been devoted to throughout the course of his life. This work clearly held a special poignancy for his mother, who inscribed her son’s name and the date of the execution on the reverse, much as any mother would today to a child’s painting before proudly mounting it on a fridge or dresser. The inscription shows the growing importance of Wood’s work in the 1930s, after his death, and his strong artistic standing not only in London but also on the continent, but perhaps most importantly it shows a mother’s way of remembering and honouring her son, whose talent she adored and whose outstanding artistic ability she sought to promote for the rest of her life.

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