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.