St Ives Harbour Print

St Ives Harbour Print

Regular price £8.00 £4.00 Sale

A view of the harbour and lighthouse at St Ives, where Alfred Wallis lived from about 1890.

It shows a bird's-eye view of the port on the left and the lighthouse positioned on the right end of the lower breakwater.

The painting is not intended to be topographically accurate but uses referential elements to evoke the idea of 'harbour'. Two two-masted vessels - apparently ketches - are shown tied up alongside the upper breakwater and another is positioned as if moored equidistant between the arms of the entrance, bows to the left. A topsail schooner sails from right to left across the painting in the middle distance, right of centre, with nearly all sails set. The bird's-eye view means that the decks of all the vessels shown are visible and they have been left largely unpainted so that the brown of the thick cardboard support - cut from a packing case - shows through. The sea is applied with white impasto outside the harbour, while the harbour walls are in white and outlined in a thick line of black.

Originally a fisherman, Wallis claimed to have gone to sea at the age of nine and to have been deep-sea fishing as far as Newfoundland. In 1890 he moved to St Ives where he was a marine scrap merchant until his retirement in 1912. After his wife died childless in 1922, he took up painting to keep himself company. This became a compulsion which lasted for the rest of his life and his principal subjects were ships at sea and shipwrecks. The paintings were manifestations of memory and served as evocations of his time at sea, as well as of familiar land and seascapes around St Ives. Ignoring linear perspective he applied a perspective of his own to familiar subjects, working on whatever material or objects came to hand - not least because he could afford little else.

Using a restricted palette he painted with varieties of ship paint on irregularly shaped card, often old grocery boxes, using the shape of the card to dictate the form and become as integral an ingredient as the colour or subject. What emerged was a systematic desire to record the passing of an era in which sail gave way to steam and the Cornish pilchard-fishing industry declined. He also observed major events in and around St Ives. His work and use of materials, and his emphasis on the painting as an object, were admired by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) and Christopher Wood (1901-30) who by 1928 were already attracted by the primitive. Despite their help Wallis died in poverty but his work is significant as an eloquent expression of a prevailing movement in English art. 

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