Christopher Wood

Christopher Wood

1901 - 1930

Born in 1901 Knowsley, Lancashire, England ; Died in 1930 Salisbury, England

Painter of seascapes, landscapes, harbour scenes and still-life subjects.

Christopher Wood, known among his friends as Kit, initially studied at Liverpool School of Architecture (1919-20). After a brief spell in London, Wood was invited to Paris by his homosexual lover, the art collector and connoisseur, Alphonse Kahn. While in Paris, Wood enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian and at La Grande Chaumière. He soon entered a relationship with a Chilean diplomat named Antonio de Gandarillas who was to be of huge professional benefit for Wood as, through Gandarillas, he was welcomed into artistic and social circles which included contemporaries as Augustus John (1878-1961), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), to name a few. Wood travelled extensively throughout Mediterranean Europe and North Africa where he became a user of opium.

Wood’s first one-man show was at Heal's gallery in 1924. He exhibited alongside fellow artist Paul Nash (1889-1946) at the Redfern Gallery in 1925. In 1926 Wood produced designs for a production of Romeo & Juliet by Diaghilev's Ballet Russes but his designs were abandoned and he decided to return to England. On his arrival Wood immediately became a member of the London Group and then a member of the modernist exhibiting group, the Seven & Five Society (1927-29). A pivotal moment in Wood's career came when he exhibited alongside Ben Nicholson and his wife Winifred at the Beaux Arts Gallery (1927). From this meeting, Wood's paintings found a common interest and quickly began to associate itself with the work of both Nicholsons. Wood often stayed for lengthy periods with the Nicholsons at their home in Bankshead, Cumberland and joined them on trips to Cornwall. During a visit with Ben Nicholson to the Cornish fishing town of St Ives, the two artists encountered a local fisherman and painter named Alfred Wallis (1885-1942). Wallis was an untrained painter of coastal and maritime scenes whose work was considered naïve and childlike, yet at the same time being highly expressive; so called modernist qualities that appealed strongly to both Wood and Nicholson. In "discovering" Wallis, Wood sought to achieve his own modern primitive style, deciding to paint using only house-paints and primers often directly on to pieces of card or board. Wood's pursuit of an untutored, primitive style signals a rejection of what he deemed the unnecessary sophistication of French modernism. Together, Wood and the two Nicholsons shared in the development of a uniquely British, modern-primitive style which they quickly set about applying to paintings of landscapes, seascapes, flower paintings, still-life subjects and the people of Cornwall (see 'The Fisherman’s Farewell', 1928, Tate Collection, T07994). Further successful exhibitions followed in London (1929) and Paris (1930) but Wood remained a heavily troubled man (he had battled severe depression and drug addiction for a number of years). Whilst waiting for a train at Salisbury rail station, Wood committed suicide. Posthumous exhibitions were held throughout the 1930s but his work received little critical attention until the 1970s. Wood remains a sidelined, yet essential, figure in the development of British modernist painting.

Wood in represented by major public collections including Tate, National Portrait Gallery, the Government Art Collection, and Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge). Other holders of Wood’s work include regional collections in Aberdeen, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Chichester, Colchester and Ipswich, Cornwall, Dorset, Dudley, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Harrogate, Hull, Leeds Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Oxford, Rugby, Southampton, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Non-UK collections include the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper (France) and the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. (USA).

Benjamin Angwin – September 2014