Art that captures a period of change in the fishing industry on show in Great Yarmouth

Alfred Wallis painting at 3 Back Road West, St Ives 1928

Alfred Wallis painting at 3 Back Road West, St Ives 1928 - Credit: Tate Images / Tate Images

The acclaimed works of a unique figure in maritime art are to be seen in Norfolk for the first time at Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum.

Unlike many of his peers Alfred Wallis had no formal training and only took up painting when he was already in his 70s, after the death of his wife.

He painted from memory, inspired by his earlier experiences of life at sea.

Born in 1855 in Devon, he went to sea as a boy, spending time on both fishing and merchant vessels. He and his wife moved to St Ives in 1890 where he opened a marine rag and bone store.

His paintings depict his earlier life at sea, featuring ships and shipwrecks, especially those vessels which disappeared from service during his working life. Others feature the town of St Ives, its harbour and surrounding landscape. He painted in materials which were familiar to him and close to hand – ships’ paint, which to Wallis was ‘real’ paint, on fragments of wood and cardboard.

His pictures inspired some of the leading figures of modern British art and his work is now in some of the most important museum collections around the world.

Wallis used to say he wasn’t a real artist, “not like them London ones”. However his contemporaries had a higher opinion of his work and his paintings were collected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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Curator Johanna O’Donoghue, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming a large part of the famous Kettle’s Yard, Alfred Wallis collection to the museum as we think that the art will inspire visitors of all generations.

“Wallis’ work and his approach to painting is exciting, affirming and unaffected. As this is a first for any Norfolk museum, it will also be a real treat to see some of the collections that are not usually on display even at Kettle’s Yard here in Great Yarmouth.

His work has been described as nostalgic and naive, but are said to capture a period of change and modernisation in the fishing industry; a perspective that resonates with the history of Great Yarmouth.

Kettle’s Yard owns over 100 works by Alfred Wallis, about half of which are on permanent display in the house. The rest are kept in store and rarely seen. Building work at Kettle’s Yard has given the gallery the opportunity to take the paintings on tour, but this is its only stop in Norfolk.

Kettle’s Yard at the University of Cambridge was the home of an early admirer of Wallis, Jim Ede who was curator at the Tate gallery in the 1920s and 30s. The two men corresponded regularly until 1939. Ede collected almost 100 works by Alfred Wallis.

The exhibition is open from April to September, Monday to Friday 10-4pm, weekends 12-4pm.

Adult £5.20, concession £4.30, young person (aged four to 16) £3.70. Adult in a family group £4.20

Under fours free. For more information call 01493 743930.