China Dogs in a St. Ives Window, Christopher Wood
Artist: Christopher Wood
Location: Room 1
Materials: Gouache on panel
Acquisition: Acquired in 2017 with support from Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), the Arts Council England/Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund & the Friends of Pallant House Gallery Acquisition Fund
This colourful painting was produced during Christopher Wood’s first visit to Cornwall in 1926 and was painted at his rented cottage Olva House in St Ives. Wood’s choice of subject, a group of ornamental Staffordshire dogs positioned on an armchair next to a window, with a Cornish seascape beyond, successfully captures the artist’s imagination. Wood has painted these dogs with the proportion and positioning of family pets waiting patiently for their owner to return home, rather than the statuettes that the viewer expects.
Although the scene at Wood’s rented cottage is both warm and inviting, the viewer is acutely aware of a storm brewing over Godrevy lighthouse which can be seen rising out of the sea on the left-hand side of the painting. The changing weather, coupled with a fishing boat returning to the harbour, is a prominent reminder of the dangers at sea for Cornish fishermen.
Wood was an ambitious artist, and wrote to his mother five years before this painting was produced to say that he wanted ‘to try and be the greatest painter that has ever lived.’ His long-term relationship with Antonio de Gandarillas, a well-connected Chilean diplomat, enabled Wood to socialise with the wealthy international elite of the period. Wood was bisexual and although his relationship with Gandarillas lasted Wood’s lifetime, he had a number of affairs and was briefly engaged to Meraud Guinness.
Although Wood tried to avoid fashionable society painters, he met Picasso in Paris, and in London was introduced to Ben and Winifred Nicholson and the Seven & Five Society, of which he was a member between 1927 and 1929. It is likely that Wood never reached his full potential as an artist as he died at the age of 29. Whilst addicted to opium and becoming increasingly paranoid due to withdrawal from the drug, Wood jumped in front of a train at Salisbury station and was killed instantly in 1930.