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CHRISTOPHER WOOD FEATURETTE

Christopher (“Kit”) Wood (1901-1930) is well represented on the Storm Classics website. Kit Wood has become a leading Modern British artist, strongly connected in his time with Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Augustus John, Cocteau, Diaghilev and many other artists of the 1920s period in England and France.

He was born near Liverpool on 7 April 1901, the son of a local GP on the Earl of Derby’s Knowsley estate. He was educated at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and suffered from polio as a young child. Wood studied medicine and architecture briefly at Liverpool University (1919-20). Here he met Augustus John, who encouraged him to be a painter and he first studied drawing at the Académie Julian in 1921. He travelled around Europe and North Africa between 1922 and 1924. He moved easily in artistic circles, meeting the Chilean diplomat Antonio de Gandarillas. As well as providing financial support, Gandarillas introduced Wood to Picasso, the composer Georges Auric and Jean Cocteau, and to the use of opium. In the same circle, he met Diaghilev, the latter for whom he created designs for Romeo and Juliet for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

In 1924, Kit Wood showed his first pictures at Heal’s in London. He travelled widely with Gandarillas in 1925, to Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Rome and London. As early as 1925, his biographer Eric Newton wrote, “he had painted pictures that could have been painted by no one else.”

By 1925, Wood had already been mentioned in several fashion magazines as a “bright young person”. The work he produced in 1925 and early 1926 became the subject of his first major exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London, which he shared with Paul Nash.

He became a member of the Seven and Five Society and around 1925/26 met Ben and Winifred Nicholson. It was about this time that he painted Roses in a Jar. He remained close to Winifred Nicholson for the rest of his life, as she moved to figurative painting and Ben moved increasingly to abstraction. He painted together with the Nicholsons in Cumbria and Cornwall, then exhibited together at the Beaux Arts Gallery in April-May 1927.

In 1928, Wood lived and painted with Ben and Winifred Nicholson at St Ives in Cornwall and in Cumbria. He had met them in 1925 and become close to them both personally and artistically. Wood belonged to an abstract avant-garde group of artists in St. Ives where he mixed with the Nicholsons, Paul Nash and John Piper, and ultimately he contributed significantly to the course of modern British painting.

It was also in 1928 when he was walking on the beach in Cornwall with Ben Nicholson that they discovered Alfred Wallis, a retired seaman known today as a leading primitive painter who was to influence Wood's work greatly. They admired his naïve but intuitively sophisticated paintings, often painted on odd bits of board. Wallis' work had a profound impact on their painting.

Sadly, Kit Wood fell under a train in 1930, either by accident or design but his addiction to opium was the source of his demise. During his short life, it is estimated he had painted around 500 works or more, and many more drawings and watercolours.

Following Kit Wood's death, posthumous exhibitions were held at the Wertheim Gallery (Feb. 1931) and the Lefevre Galleries (1932). In 1938 Wood's paintings were included in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In the same year a major exhibition was organised by the Redfern Gallery at the New Burlington Galleries of the Royal Academy, which attempted to re-unite Wood's complete works. Fifty years later in 1979, the Arts Council of Great Britain promoted a travelling exhibition in 1979. His pictures can be found in major collections including the Tate Gallery, the Louvre, the Graves Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, HRH Prince of Wales, Fitzwilliam Museum, National Portrait Gallery and the Philips Collection in Washington DC, to name only a few.

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