August 29th Alfred Wallis (Death)

Devonport – born Alfred Wallis (1855 – 1942) of parents from Penzance moved to his parents’ hometown with his father, Charles, and his brother, Charles, after the death of his mother. 

He was apprenticed to a basket maker but became a merchant sailor, working on schooners travelling between Penzance and Newfoundland.  

In 1876, at the age of twenty he married Susan Ward in Penzance and became stepfather to his older wife’s five children.  They had two children both of whom died in infancy and after leaving the merchant navy Wallis returned to live permanently in the town, working as a fisherman and labourer.

In 1890, the family moved to St. Ives where, for twenty years he ran a marine stores. 

Wallis only started painting after the death of his wife purely, as he put it, ‘for company’.  Entirely self taught his naïf style ignored perspective whilst the size of an object depends on its importance to the scene, making many of his paintings of almost map-like quality, as demonstrated by ‘Fish and Trawlers’ (below).



Many of Wallis’ seascapes were painted from memory since the world of sail that he had worked in had been replaced by the era of the steamships.  Living in near poverty, he improvised with his materials, often painting on cardboard from packing crates and with whatever paints he could buy from ships’ chandlers.

In 1928, Wallis was discovered by Ben Nicholson (February 6th) and he became an integral part of the St. Ives School.  Nicholson said that, ‘to Wallis, his paintings were never paintings but actual events’ whilst Wallis himself wrote that ‘What I do mosley (mostly) is what use to be out of my own memery (memory) what we may never see again as Thing are altered all together. I do not go out any where to Draw’.

Wallis was deeply religious, never painting on a Sunday and believed it was everybody’s duty to read the Bible every day. 

In 1937, he was hit by a car and developed severe nervousness which escalated to a persecution complex, leading him to stop painting. He moved to Madron Workhouse where he resumed painting, working until almost until the day of his death.



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