Visual Arts Review: British Folk Art Collection Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne
Gale, Iain, The Independent (London, England)
According to art-historical legend, it was while strolling through St Ives one late August afternoon in 1928 that the artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood "discovered" the septuagenarian Alfred Wallis, painting at the doorway of his tiny cottage. Wallis, entirely self-taught, painted simple, two-dimensional views of the harbour, of the fishing boats he knew from his life on the sea and the rural landscape around his home town. In his honest, untutored imagery, Nicholson and Wood saw the primitive influence for which they had both been searching.
It is significant that a small painted tray by Wallis is included in an exhibition of British folk art currently on view in Eastbourne. The British Folk Art Collection, formed over many years by London art-dealer Andras Kalman and his wife Dorothy, recently lost its home in Bath, has been rescued for the nation by the Peter Moores Foundation and is now on permanent tour around the country. It contains some of the most enduring images of British naive painting and, undoubtedly, many will enjoy these works on the strength of their instantly accessible charm. Such pieces as an 1870s painting of a prize ram and a pair of pigs from the 1850s would not look out of place in a Laura Ashley catalogue. With its painted shop signs and amusing vignettes - John Collier's sadistic dentist, for example, or J Clark's Royal Ratcatcher - this is both an important record of our social history and, on quite another level, evidence of a vital and unjustly neglected part of our art history.
While the rich and fortunate entered the academies, this was the art that, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, was being produced across the British Isles by naturally talented and for the most part anonymous artists. …