Alfred Wallis

Artist and fisherman

29th August, 1942
Buried at:  
Barnoon Cemetery, St Ives

Alfred Wallis, has produced some of the most easily recognised paintings of the town of St Ives, where he lived for many years. His burial site - with beautiful views over the sea - is appropriate, as his working life was spent connected to the sea.

Born in Devonport, in 1855, he lived in Devonport in his early childhood, and later moved to Penzance with his father and brother after his mother passed away. Alfred began his working life in Penzance, first as a basket maker, though he was working as a mariner by the early 1870s, sailing on schooners between Cornwall and Canada. He married Susan Ward, who was 21 years his senior, in Penzance in 1876, and was a stepfather to her five children; two children born to Alfred and Susan died in their infancy, between 1882 and 1889, and by 1890 the family were living in St Ives, where Alfred ran a ship's chandler store until 1912.

After his wife died in 1922, Alfred started painting as a means of passing the time; perhaps he had been inspired by some of the artists coming in to St Ives since the arrival of the railway in the town in 1877. His poverty was such that many of his artworks were executed on scrap cardboard rather than canvas, using ship's paint bought cheaply. Alfred painted mainly from his memory, reproducing in his depictions an earlier generation of sailing vessels, which by the 1920s were being replaced by steamships. The map-like quality of his paintings, and limited palette of colours, is immediately recognisable and engaging.

From the late 1920s through the 1930s, artists from London who had relocated to St Ives were pleased to include Alfred Wallis in their circle, and Wallis gained an agent to promote his paintings in London. Despite this, however, Alfred sold few paintings during his lifetime and remained impoverished. He moved to Madron Workhouse around the middle of 1941 when he was unable to look after himself at home, and continued to paint during this period. His health continued to deteriorate, though, and he died at the Workhouse in August 1942. His funeral in St Ives was attended by numerous artists from the town, including Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth: a donation from Adrian Stokes enabled Alfred Wallis to be buried in a private grave plot, which is enhanced with a tiled scene created by Bernard Leach, depicting a mariner and lighthouse


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