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Alfred Wallis: The Forgotten Artist of St Ives

  • 6 min read

Alfred Wallis: The Forgotten Artist of St Ives

In the early 20th century, a small fishing village in St Ives, Cornwall, was home to a very special artist. Alfred Wallis was a self-taught painter who captured the light and colour of the sea in his paintings. His work is now considered some of the most important art from that time period. Despite his immense talent, Wallis remained relatively unknown during his lifetime. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the life and work of Alfred Wallis, and explore why he has been largely forgotten by history.

 Photograph of Cornish artist and fisherman Alfred Wallis

Above: Photograph of Cornish artist and fisherman Alfred Wallis

The light and colour of St Ives, Cornwall, have inspired artists for centuries. Alfred Wallis, who was largely forgotten until the 1960s, was born in 1855 and spent most of his life fishing off the coast of St Ives. He began painting in his spare time, and developed a unique style that reflected his surroundings. His paintings are characterized by their simplicity and lightness of touch, as well as their intense colours.

Art prints

The John Dyer Gallery has a collection of wall art by Alfred Wallis available as open edition prints.

Alfred Wallis Open Edition Cornish St Ives Print. 'Against Longships, Fog'

This open edition print, 'Against Longships, Fog,' is a fantastic display of his work. The painting shows two steamers and a sailing vessel navigating the perilous Longships Rocks, off Cornwall's coast. The artist utilized a restricted colour palette of black, grey and white to create this dark yet intriguing image.

Alfred Wallis Open Edition Cornish Art Print. 'Sailing Ship in a Stormy Sea'

This depiction of 'The Sailing Ship in a Stormy Sea' by Wallis is a great illustration of the drama and grandeur of a storm at sea. The orange cardboard's limited colour palette, which includes black, grey, and white, creates a stark and dramatic contrast that really brings the painting to life. Oil paint and pencil give the work an earthy feel that makes it seem almost possible to touch the crashing waves.

Alfred Wallis Open Edition Cornish Art Print. 'Headland with Two Three-Masters'

Wallis was fascinated by the sea and all its moods. He would often paint boats in stormy seas, reflecting his own experience as a fisherman. Taking his small fishing boat out to sea from St Ives harbour would have been quite ferocious at times and those turbulant seas the fishermen must have experienced are captured perfectly in these simple, yet powerful pieces of art work.

photograph of Cornish Artist Alfred Wallis sitting at his desk, painting

Above: photograph of Alfred Wallis sitting at his desk in his studio

Wallis was a self-taught artist who began painting in his 60s. He had no formal training and yet his work has a freshness and vitality that is truly remarkable. His use of light and colour is also very distinctive. His paintings seem to glow from within, capturing the light of the St Ives sun and the force and strength of the sea.

Photograph of the grave of Alfred Wallis 

Above: photograph of Alfred Wallis's grave, St Ives Cornwall

Wallis made such an impression on the town that his grave stone depicts a piece of his work and is visited by many art collectors and historians.

Why is St Ives famous for art?

St Ives, Cornwall, has a long history of being a popular destination for artists. The light and colour of the sea and sky have inspired many painters, including John Dyer, Joanne Short, and Ted Dyer.

Ben Nicholson is just one of the many talented artists who have been drawn to this small town historically. He and his wife and several other artists were part of an artists community who became members of the St Ives Society of Artists.

St Ives Society of Artists

After the war, Borlase Smart and his wife moved to St Ives and worked in his Porthmeor studio for several years. He became one of the most prominent seascape painters in St Ives during the years that followed, focusing on boldly painted seascapes. He was a founder member of the St Ives Society of Artists, as well as being an important advocate for local painters.

The arrival of Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, and Naum Gabo to St Ives in 1939 was the beginning of a modern art movement in St Ives that would have an international reputation within a few years and who would form the core of a new artistic movement that would quickly achieve worldwide renown.

Later generations of younger artists - Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham were among the other young modern painters who utilized the School's facilities regularly.

Because of these groups of famous artists all being linked to St Ives, it has become well known for its art.

What is special about the light in St Ives?

The light in St Ives is said to be unlike anywhere else in the world. The town is located on the southwest coast of England, and the light reflecting off the sea and the pale sand in the bay is incredibly beautiful. Many artists have been inspired by this light, and have used it to create stunning works of art.

Artist Joanne Short painting St Ives

Above: photograph of artist Joanne Short painting St Ives 1998

The light, the colour, and the sea are some of the things that make St Ives such a special place. And it is these same qualities that make the work of Alfred Wallis so unique.

 Artist John Dyer painting in St Ives

Above: John dyer painting in St Ives, 1998

St Ives is one of John Dyer's favourite places to paint. There are lovely views across the rooftops to St Ives harbour below or views of Porthmeor beach and across the bay to Godrevy lighthouse. All of these images have been captured in paint and are now available as both limited edition or open edition art prints, framed or unframed.

Art prints of St Ives by John Dyer Gallery artists

Joanne Short

"I love to visit and paint St Ives with its collection of cornish stone cottages nestled around the harbour, with pretty little windows looking out to sea. The harbour is always full of coloured boats bobbing on clear turquoise sea. I am always inspired to try to capture this in paint every time I visit."

Signed Limited Edition Cornwall Art Print by Cornish Artist Joanne Short. 'Glorious View, St Ives'. Cornwall Art Gallery Print

John Dyer

The range of activities and places to explore in St Ives means that there is something for everyone to enjoy. The picture-perfect harbour, with its collections of colourful boats and range of restaurants and bars, is a wonderful place to while away a lazy day.

Signed Limited Edition Print by Cornish Artist John Dyer. 'Boats and Ropes St Ives'

For those who enjoy being active, there are plenty of opportunities to join in with a range of water sports, from kayaking and paddle boarding, to boat hire and fishing trips. Many of these things appear in John's fun, busy and happy paintings and art prints.

John Dyer Fine Art Print. Open Edition Cornish Art Print. 'Cat Snoozing on the Chair, St Ives'


Ted Dyer

Ted Dyer Fine Art Print. Open Edition Cornish Art Print. 'Afternoon on the Beach. St Ives'

Ted Dyer's museum-quality open edition Cornish artwork depicts the spectacular view of St Ives Bay from Porthminster Beach. The artist skillfully captures the sparkling sea and sand, as well as its famed brightness, through palm trees and under a Cornish blue sky. This is an essential addition for any art enthusiast or St Ives devotee.

And for those who prefer to simply take in the views, the range of art galleries and exhibitions provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. Whatever your interests, you are sure to find something to enjoy in St Ives on a day out.

Photograph of St Ives Harbour taken by John Dyer

Above: Photograph of St Ives Harbour taken by John Dyer

If you visit our online gallery and shop you will find a wide choice of paintings, prints, posters, mugs and giftware where you can buy images of St Ives to take a piece of Cornwall home with you! We are delighted to be able to offer easy one click payment with Amazon pay and Apple Pay and accept all credit and debit cards.

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Have you seen some art in this article you are considering purchasing?

If you would like help or advice in choosing and investing in the perfect piece of art for your interior and art collection, please feel free to get in touch. We are delighted to answer your questions and can suggest additional art prints or original paintings that will be perfect for you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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