Sussex artwork: China Dogs in a St Ives Window by Christopher Wood

China Dogs in a St Ives Window by Christopher Wood. Photo: courtesy of Pallant House Gallery

China Dogs in a St Ives Window by Christopher Wood. Photo: courtesy of Pallant House Gallery - Credit: Courtesy of Pallant House Gallery

An introduction to a painting which is part of the permanent collection at Pallant House, Chichester, painted at the peak of the artist’s career

Several months ago, this painting might well have carried a different message from the one it does now. At the time it was painted, it evoked a family at leisure, relaxing in each other’s company and admiring the view of a traditional British seaside holiday scene. Now, perhaps, we are reminded of the days of full lockdown, when we were able to partake of the world only from behind our windows.

The artist, Christopher Wood, died much too young aged just 29. Born in Liverpool, he was destined for a medical career until a chance meeting at university with the artist Augustus John led to him leaving his studies to pursue a career as an artist instead. After spending his early 20s studying in Paris in the company of Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau he returned to England where he befriended the St. Ives artists, including Ben and Winifred Nicholson, who greatly influenced his primitivist style and his love of the sea as a subject for his art.

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This recently restored painting of an arrangement of dogs in a window next to the harbour at St. Ives represents a pivotal point, when he embraced the deliberately primitive style which became his hallmark. The combination of the dogs with their curious and endearing expressions, a traditional seaside vista, archetypal British seaside weather, and a stylistic nod to the surrealists and modernists of 1920s France and Belgium, has ensured the enduring popularity of this painting and it remains the most beloved of the many excellent works in the permanent collection of Pallant House.

Tragically, there is no happy ending to Wood’s story. In 1930 after a frenetic period preparing work for what he hoped to be a major exhibition in London, Wood’s mental health deteriorated significantly. He began to suffer psychotic episodes which led to bouts of heavy drinking, drug use and erratic behaviour, culminating in his suicide in August of that year.

In 2016 Pallant House staged an exhibition of Wood’s work, exploring his combination of the sophisticated and the primitive and the remarkable achievements of his 10-year career.

Pallant House Gallery is located in central Chichester at 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ, which is currently open every day except Mondays, pre-booking essential.

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