A Collection of CollectionsA Collection of Collections

English Naïve Art in the 20th Century

In the 20th century many English artists sought to escape the sophistication of academic painting, which was typified by the highly-finished work then being exhibited in institutions such as the Royal Academy. Just as artists on the continent had drawn on the influence of tribal art as a reaction to industrialisation of society, these artists drew on English folk art, children's art and the work of untrained artists in order to develop a deliberately naïve visual style.

Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood were particularly influenced by the work of the self-taught artist Alfred Wallis, whom they 'discovered' in St Ives in 1928. They sought to emulate the child-like innocence of Wallis's paintings of boats and lighthouses in their own work. However, the approach of such artists belies the sophistication of their ideas. While the watercolours of Edward Burra combine a quirky humour with a technically competent handling of watercolour, the paintings of the former Surrealist artist Julian Trevelyan and his second wife Mary Fedden employed a knowingly naïve style and a 'magic realist' quality in order to achieve a sense of simplicity.


Key works include: 'China Dogs in a St Ives Window' (1926) by Christopher Wood and 'Four Boats by a Lighthouse' (n.d.) by Alfred Wallis.