Monday, 4 April 2011

Compton Verney

A glorious day in the Warwickshire countryside and a trip to Compton Verney just East of Stratford upon Avon.

The old Elizabethan mansion house has been converted into a light and airy art centre, with breakout education rooms, a cafe and gift shop and a permanent collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century Neapolitan paintings. Vesuvius always smoking in the background waiting to blow. More diverting was a tidy exhibition showing comparing the work of Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis.

Wallis is a fascinating figure. A Cornish mariner born in the 1850s who retired to St Ives and took up painting in his sixties. Most of his work was painted on driftwood, cereal packets or whatever he could get his hands on. Nicholson discovered his work and befriended him on a motoring holiday in 1928 and his patronage shot Wallis from obscurity to international fame.

The work is charming, naive, all sense of perspective condensed, reduced or ignored. Wallis nearly always looks out from shore to sea and to me the pictures are full of longing, the impatience and frustration of a sailor who shall no more to sea. At first glance they look childish, but there is an incredible instinctive and assured understanding of space, form and stroke play. Often the card is left untreated to enable browns to come through and create moody tones. A sea that's alluring, but never compliant.

Nicholson, at the outset of his adventure to cultivate a colony of artists at the end of the country had found a doyen.

No comments: