The gallery highlights the achievements of this talented yet troubled artist.
In 1921, after moving to Paris and enrolling at the Académie Julian, Christopher Wood wrote home: ‘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.’ Just nine years later he committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks in front of a train in Salisbury.
Bringing together some 80 paintings this exhibition at Pallant House – the first of its kind in 35 years – explores the achievements of this troubled artist, whose true potential was never fully realised.
Wood was one of the early British pioneers of modern art; during his time in France he struck up a friendship with Picasso, and from within the Parisian avant-garde was encouraged to explore a primitive approach to his practice that favoured a deliberately unsophisticated and simplistic style.
Back in England he allied himself with the experimental painter Ben Nicholson and the two would often work alongside one another, creating pictures of the landscapes and harbours of the South West. It was also in Cornwall the pair met Alfred Wallis, who would become a hugely influential figure to Wood as he continued to develop his own distinctive aesthetic.
Despite winning admiration from his contemporaries on both sides of the channel – Jean Cocateau proclaimed that on viewing Wood’s canvases ‘you don't think, you live’, while Gwen Raverat praised his ‘fashionable clumsiness’ – by 1930 the artist was heavily addicted to opium and had become increasingly unstable.
His death in August was regarded as an incredible loss by the art world, and the works he left behind were later shown at retrospective exhibitions in 1931 and 1932 and at the Venice Biennale in 1938. On display in Chichester this summer, they are a poignant reminder of his short yet significant career