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Christopher Wood

English Painter

Christopher Wood Photo
Movements and Styles: Primitivism in Art, Post-Impressionism

Born: April 7, 1901 - Knowsley, Liverpool, England

Died: August 21, 1930 - Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

"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"

Summary of Christopher Wood

The tragically short but majestic career of Christopher Wood produced an exquisite selection of lyrical, enigmatic, and luminous canvases. Tellingly, as a young man traveling through Europe in the early 1920s, Wood read and marveled over the collected letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Like Van Gogh, Wood experienced a level of over sensitivity and emotional inner turmoil that ultimately led to suicide. Before his sad death, Wood was a charming and flamboyant personality. He was one of few Englishmen who gained access to fashionable Parisian art circles; he met Pablo Picasso and Sergei Diaghilev, and became great friends with Jean Cocteau. Despite these lofty connections it was not until Wood returned to England, met the hard-working Ben and Winifred Nicholson, encountered the naïve pictures of Alfred Wallis, and lived by the unpredictable sea, that he felt home and developed his own distinct and powerful style of painting.

Key Ideas

Wood shared with the Nicholson couple an interest in still life and in surrounding landscapes. He successfully painted these subjects with a signature quality of simplicity and muted palette that also resembles the paintings of Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi. All of these artists poetically depict uncomplicated subjects - often in the style of a straightforward view through the window - as a means to paradoxically encourage reflection and to reveal great emotional depth. In this respect, Wood was particularly influenced by Winifred Nicholson's work.
In contrast to his great friends, the Nicholsons, Wood always remained attached to the presence of the human figure in his canvases. He included self-portraits, as well as sensitive renderings of fishermen and local folk. Indeed, ordinary working-class people are often idealized to become heroic or spiritual figures. In this respect, Wood's work has much in common with that of Paul Gauguin's paintings made in Brittany, and with images by Van Gogh's made throughout his career.
Wood was mainly untutored and owing especially to his use of unusual perspective and bold color his work is often considered faux naïve, primitive, and childlike. His work therefore resembles canvases by the influential self-taught French painter, Henri Rousseau, and those of Alfred Wallis, his fellow artist based in Cornwall who only started a noteworthy art career at age seventy. Indeed it is interesting to consider Wood's work alongside that of Art Brut / Outsider Artists, although he himself was far too emerged in the art world to ever be defined as such.
Wood's late canvases create unusual juxtapositions and look forward to the onset of Surrealism. As such Wood has much in common with Paul Nash, a figure equally impressive but also difficult to place stylistically. Both artists interestingly appear to straggle and live between two different worlds; they initially spend time dedicated to portraying that which they can 'see' around them, be it war, Paris, or the seaside, but in their later career, they add unusual visions taken from their own hidden and interior landscapes - including sharks and zebras - to previously more typical scenes.
Christopher Wood Photo

Christopher (also known as Kit) Wood was born John Christopher Wood on April 7, 1901 in Knowsley, near Liverpool. He was born to parents Clare and Lucius Wood; his father was a medical doctor who worked as a general practitioner.

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