Alfred Wallis (18 August 1855 – 29 August 1942) was apprenticed to a basketmaker before becoming a mariner in the merchant service by the early 1870s. He sailed on schooners across the North Atlantic between Penzance and Newfoundland.
At 20 he married Susan Ward, his wife was 41, and became stepfather to her five children. The family moved to St. Ives in 1890 where he established himself as Wallis, Alfred, Marine Stores Dealer buying scrap iron, sails, rope and other items. Following his wife’s death in 1922, Wallis took up painting “for company“.
He painted ‘‘what use To Bee out of my memery what we may never see again…”.
Painting from memory – painting as memories. Recollection. Expressions of experience. Working sail ships, the St Ives townscape and the immediate surroundings of the town. A world where subjects were arranged in terms of their relative importance – the main subject the largest regardless of where it stood in physical relationship to its surroundings.
An art of improvised materials, cardboard ripped from packing boxes, a limited palette of paint bought from ships’ chandlers.
Ben Nicholson commented that “to Wallis, his paintings were never paintings but actual events”.
Alfred Wallis died penniless in the Madron workhouse in 1942. As Nicholson remarked, Wallis’ paintings represented “Something that has grown out of the Cornish seas and earth and which will endure.”
Images from the Tate Gallery collection: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/alfred-wallis-577