VISUAL ARTS Christopher Wood Tate St Ives

By Ingleby, Richard | The Independent (London, England), November 22, 1996 | Go to article overview
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VISUAL ARTS Christopher Wood Tate St Ives


Ingleby, Richard, The Independent (London, England)


The day that Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood "discovered" the flea-bitten fisherman-turned-painter Alfred Wallis lurking in the back streets of St Ives has become a kind of mythic moment in the history of British art. It is generally taken as the beginning of the town's longstanding involvement with modern painting, a relationship cemented three years ago with the opening of the Tate St Ives on the edge of Porthmeor Beach.

The new displays that opened there last week, including an exhibition of Wood's work, are the first to look closely at the early years and the result, at last, is a gallery that makes sense of the town's artistic credentials. By scattering Wood's pictures in the context of his contemporaries, including Nicholson and Wallis, a thread develops that gives a welcome sense of continuity to the building as a whole.

The focus of the Tate's exhibition, grouped in a central room, is Les Deux Cornouailles, the pictures Wood painted in Cornwall and in the area of Brittany that shares its name. For the most part they are simple scenes of sea-side life - tiny white cottages clinging to dark green hills; ragged coastlines; deep blue seas and brown-sailed boats. Taken individually they are cheerful images with a magical, frozen quality, but seen in numbers they take on a different feel. Something slightly odd, almost sinister, inhabits the room, a sense heightened by the knowledge that Wood killed himself three weeks after finishing the last of them. In some ways Wood was a more interesting, more obviously troubled painter than these predominantly sunny paintings suggest.

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