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Christopher Wood: Sophisticated Primitive

[ Exhibition )

A painting by Christopher Wood depicting a brown and white spotted dog sitting in a red chair next to a china spaniel. An open window looks out on to a fishing boat and lighthouse out at sea

Christopher Wood, China Dogs in a St. Ives Window, 1926, Gouache on panel, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Acquired by Pallant House Gallery in 2017 with thanks to 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 and generous donors)

How did Christopher Wood combine a sophisticated technique with a primitive style?

An important and influential figure in the British art world during the 1920s, Christopher Wood developed a ‘faux-naïve’ style as he navigated a path between the representational painting of the Edwardian era and the new style of abstraction of the 1930s

A celebration of the magnitude of the artist’s achievement in the ten years before his premature death, aged just 29, this comprehensive review explored the enduring paradox between the primitive and the sophisticated in Wood’s oeuvre.

The first exhibition in 35 years to provide a comprehensive overview of the career of the artist, it explored the life and art of a turbulent young painter who held an important position in the British art world during the 1920s. Along with Ben and Winifred Nicholson Wood developed a self-consciously unsophisticated style inspired in part by the untrained Cornish artist Alfred Wallis.

However, his understanding of naïve art was also uniquely influenced by his early exposure to the work of modernists in France such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh, who all drew upon Non-Western art and so-called ‘primitive’ cultures. His addiction to opium, encouraged by his friendship with the writer and artist Jean Cocteau, doubtlessly fed into the direct and visionary quality of his later paintings.

The exhibition included paintings, set designs and drawings created on both sides of the channel.

Dearest mother, you ask me what I am going to do: I have decided to try and be the greatest painter that has ever lived.

Christopher Wood, in a letter to his mother.

What the press said

The strange and the familiar, the wild and the mundane meet with a lyrical, sometimes almost rapturous intensity. A rhythmic energy pulses through these pictures.

The Times

 

…an interesting and even moving survey of an avant-garde painter who adopted a self-consciously innocent and “primitive” style before his tragically young death in 1930, aged just 29.

The Guardian Guide

 

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