Jerwood Foundation

Alfred Wallis (1855-1942)

Two Boats, 1930

  • Details


  • Medium

    pencil and oil on card

  • Dimensions

    9 x 15 in (22.9 x 38.1 cm)

  • Provenance

    H.S. (Jim) Ede, from whom purchased by Dr Dallas Doxford.
    Dr Dallas Doxford; Christie’s, London, 8 June 2007, lot 24, where purchased.

  • Literature

    Collection Catalogue, Jerwood Collection, London 2012 p.35

  • On Display

    Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (Room 7)

Wallis is best known for his depictions of seascapes and maritime scenes and Two Boats is typical of his style and subject matter. Wallis was perhaps an unlikely artist: a reclusive character, living in poverty, he only began painting in his seventies‘for company’ following the death of his wife. Wallis spent some time at sea and in 1890 he moved to St Ives where he set up as a marine scrap dealer. The Cornish coastline and memories of his seafaring past provided the inspiration for his work.
Two Boats is executed on cardboard. Having little money to purchase materials, Wallis used found scraps of paper and card, often ripped from packaging boxes, to paint his works. His colour palette was also typically limited, using the paint that he could obtain from ship chandlers. Wallis later claimed that his limited use of colour was partially intentional, maintaining that too many colours could spoil a good work.
The frequent depiction of sailboats in Wallis’s work was a nostalgic recollection of his time at sea, before the development of steam vessels. As Wallis himself claimed, his subjects were, ‘what use To Bee [sic] out of my memory what we may never see again’. As well as a sense of nostalgia there is also a naivety to Wallis’s work. The flattened perspective and crude simplicity of the images brings a primitive quality that first brought Wallis’s work to the attention of the artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. Nicholson recalled the day in 1928 when he and Wood first ‘discovered’ Wallis working in St Ives.They ‘passed an open door in Back Road West and saw some paintings of ships and houses on odd pieces of paper and cardboard nailed up all over the wall … We knocked on the door and inside found Wallis’.It was this initial meeting that was to prove to be a key moment in the development of British art, bringing Wallis’s work to the attention of a wider artistic community that included H.S. (Jim) Ede, Herbert Read, Adrian Stokes, Margaret Gardiner and Barbara Hepworth.
Prior to purchase for the Jerwood Collection, Two Boats was in the collection of Dr. William Burton Dallas Doxford (1907-94). The Doxford family were significant figures in the ship building business in the late nineteenth century. Dr Dallas Doxford was a Dr of Philosophy, a keen traveller and eclectic collector of many items including British art.

Wallis was born in Devonport, Plymouth, and spent some time as a young man at sea, traveling as far as Newfoundland on one occasion. He settled in Penzance in the late 1870s and in 1876 married Susan Ward, thirteen years his senior. Wallis worked for a time as a labourer before setting up as a marine scrap merchant in St Ives in the late 1880s. After Susan’s death in 1922 Wallis took up painting ‘for company’ using household paints on pieces of card. His subject matter was principally preoccupied with ships at sea, the Cornish coastline and also sometimes houses and trees. In 1928 Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson ‘discovered’ Wallis as they passed his house and saw his paintings. This led to an introduction to Jim Ede who collected a number of Wallis’s paintings, now on display at Kettle’s Yard, and his work being included in the ‘7 & 5 Society’ exhibition in 1929. Although Wallis’s work was admired by a number of people and proved to be extremely influential on artists, including Wood and Nicholson, he was lonely and felt isolated from the local St Ives community. In his old age, when his physical and mental health declined, he was moved to a workhouse, where he died in 1942. In 1950 a retrospective exhibition was held at Bournemouth and in 1958 another one, organised by the Arts Council, was held at the Tate Gallery.