Impoverished Seaman Painted in the Naive Style 'For Company' Antiques and Auctions STIVES: Alfred Wallis Started Painting When He Had Time - Aged 70
Byline: JEFFERY MUSE
SINCE 1930 there has been a strong, and growing, group of St Ives artists faithful to the naive style of painting.
It is by no means exclusive to this colony, but since the group settled here in the late 1800s, there has always been a conscious and deliberate respect for this style, which is anything but easy to those trained to observe and copy the salient points from subject to canvas.
Training is handled best by those artists who have already experienced the turmoil within, which has to be controlled and applied with infinite care with pigments onto the canvas.
Most artists start with a rudimentary sketch, leading on through various stages until they are satisfied with the final result, and some have to pursue the concept of a particular subject through several stages, which can produce more than one canvass, but few have the spontaneity and energy to create from within, time after time, pictures in a vitality as ceaseless as time itself.
Alfred Wallis was such a man;
with no formal art training, he didn't have time to paint while earning a living on the boats, and only took to painting when he had the time, which was when he finally retired. But this wasn't until he was 70, and then it was only "for company" as his wife had died and he lived in one room and alone with no children.
As he approached his 70th birthday in 1925 and he started painting, this was not really the "done thing", being more of a gentleman's occupation, or certainly for someone with independent means.
He was born in Plymouth's Devonport district in 1855 to Jane and Charles Wallis, but the early death of his mother when he was just 10 meant he was on his own at home, so he joined the merchant navy as a cabin boy.
Later, he often recalled many atrocious weather conditions, which obviously terrified him, in a candid and forthright way without any hint of bravado. His paintings, basic and harsh as they are, all retain the same overpowering strength and forceful nature rarely found in paintings. They are immensely powerful and he continued to paint, even when scooped up to an old folk's home, he was only satisfied when he had plenty of paints, brushes and paper.
In his late teens he moved west to Penzance in search of work, and he lived for a while with his younger brother, Charles, who was a marine merchant. …