Alfred Wallis


Alfred Wallis was a Cornish primitive painter who began to paint in 1925 at the age of seventy, three years after the death of his wife, Susan. Previously a fisherman and scrap-metal merchant in St Ives, his output during the next fifteen years was astonishing. Wallis produced hundreds, possibly thousands of small works, many of which have been destroyed.


Always painting from memory, Wallis improvised with materials, using ship’s paint instead of artist’s paint and old pieces of cardboard often given to him by local shopkeepers. Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson first saw Wallis’ work in 1928, by chance, whilst walking past his studio. His work and the ability to paint a subject in simple, literal terms made a strong impression on them and Nicholson soon introduced him to Jim Ede, assistant curator at the Tate Gallery, London.


Wallis’ unique, unselfconscious vision rapidly gained him a reputation as the best known of Britain’s naïve artists. Ede, who became a collector and promoter of Wallis’ work, recalls receiving, direct from Wallis, “parcels tied up in sheets of old brown paper, criss-crossed and knotted with a thousand pieces of string.”