Alfred Wallis' Ships and Boats collection goes on display at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge

By Ruth Hazard | 11 April 2012
A painting of a ship at sea with sailors on board
Alfred Wallis, Ship with Seven men, net and Gull
Exhibition: Alfred Wallis: Ships and Boats, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until July 8 2012

Alfred Wallis never set out to be an artist. He spent most of his working life as a fisherman and scrap metal merchant in Cornwall, only taking up painting at the age of 67 following the death of his wife.

He told prominent art collector Jim Ede he decided to start “for company”.

Ede owned more than 100 Wallis paintings. This new exhibition, at his former home of Kettle’s Yard, is showcasing 40 of the artist’s most iconic pieces.

Before his art career, Wallis had spent the 1870s crossing the Atlantic as a mariner in the Merchant Service and working on smaller fishing boats closer to the shore in St Ives.

He had no formal art training, choosing to focus his work on painting the things he knew best: ships and boats.

Wallis said his pieces were more experiences and events than they were paintings - expressions of what he knew, remembered and imagined.

His series, produced by painting ship oil onto found bits of stray card, was hugely influential on the developing British art scene. His contemporaries praised the images for their powerful and deeply personal expression of reality.

The display at Kettle’s Yard includes his depictions of masted brigantines, sailing boats and motor vessels battling against the sea, some of which are usually kept in storage and very rarely seen.

  • Open 1.30pm-4.30pm Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Admission free.

More pictures:

A painting of a ship at shore surrounded by cliffs and a lighthouse in the background
Alfred Wallis, Shipwreck 1 - The Wreck of the Alba, 1938-40

A painting of sail boats at sea close to the shore where there is a lighthouse, cottage and trees
Alfred Wallis, Two ships and steamer sailing past a port - Falmouth and St. Anthony lighthouse, 1931 (circa)
A picture of a ship at sea
Alfred Wallis, Brigantine with figurehead, n.d.
A picture of a ship with sailors on board
Death ship (1941-42)
A picture of a series of sail boats at sea
Sailing Ships and two Steamers - Newlyn Harbour
A picture of boats at sea with one mooring near a lighthouse
Two fishermen in Their Boat with one Mast Steeped
A picture of a boat in the sea with large fishes next to it
Land, Fish and Motor Vessel (circa 1932-37)

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