Addicted to collecting works of art, I have recently tried to channel this compulsion into one area (mainly to lessen the purchasing opportunities!) and so I’m always hugely excited when I discover an ‘old’, preferably oil painting of flowers and plants. This is my latest addition to the collection. I know absolutely nothing at all about it, and there’s not even the hint of a signature to tease me.
Today though I read a fascinating article about the artist Christopher Wood. And I was hooked. Here’s a little snippet…
In the Tate Gallery Archive, among the neatly catalogued boxes of letters, diaries and photographs - the usual artefacts of art history - there are five pages of close-typed paper detailing the movements of a man, identified only as W, on the 20 and 21 August, 1930: "W arrived at the Pier Hotel, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight about 11 o'clock on 20 August and was allotted room number nine. He stated he was going to stay for two days. He had with him two suitcases (one of them blue) and three large packets or holders containing, it was understood, pictures. He went to his room with the porter, came down within five minutes and had two whiskies and soda and a sandwich. He then went out. At about 12.40 he came in again, had a whisky and soda at the bar."
The document is a private detective's report compiled from eye-witnesses, and it makes gripping reading. W continues to order whiskies and soda at all times of the day and night, he meets men in cars that are unrecognised by anyone in the vicinity, he stays out all night and then changes his story as to where he spent it, he keeps a six-chamber revolver in his overcoat pocket and he leaves the island by the morning boat on Thursday, 21 August. By mid-afternoon, W is dead.
W is believed to be Christopher Woods, the year was 1930.
Just four years earlier in 1926, it was a busy year in the tragically short life of this great British painter.
After travelling in North Africa and submerging himself in the avant-garde art scene in Paris (with the likes of Picasso and Jean Cocteau), he was asked to design costumes for a production of Romeo & Juliet. Discarded at the last minute, Wood returned to England where he exhibited with the London Society (including the likes of Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson). In 1926, Wood also painted ‘Tulips and Hyacinths’ which caught my attention and which sold recently for £220,000 – (more than seven times its estimate) to a bidder in the hushed salesroom.
Wood continued to paint for only four more years after; he travelled to St. Ives where he was inspired by the fisherman/painter Alfred Wallis and to Brittany where some of his best-known paintings were created. In 1930 after some years of heavy opium use, he travelled to Salisbury to visit his mother with a number of his paintings. At the station on the return trip to London he jumped in front of a train.
And so my little painting of tulips and irises will always now make me think of Christopher Wood and I look forward to learning more about his work. And it does make me think even more about the unknown artists behind these little (and often discarded) gems. Even more reason to keep hunting them out!