Christopher Wood

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Self-portrait, in the permanent collection of Kettle's Yard, Cambridge
Christopher Wood (1901–1930) was a highly talented artist, ambitious and good looking, who lived a life of great intensity, which ended tragically. He painted in the styles of Picasso, Cézanne, Van Gogh and the Fauvists, while developing his own naive style. His work is now being reappraised more than 80 years after his suicide at an early age.


Christopher Wood, known as Kit, was born in Lancashire, but was apprenticed at the age of 20 to a dried fruit importer in London, and did some painting in his spare time. There he met Alphonse Kahn, a gay art collector, who invited him to stay with him in Paris, taking him to museums and artists’ studios. In 1921 he met Antonio de Gandarillas, a gay (though married) Chilean diplomat, and they remained close friends until Wood’s death. Through him he met many well-connected people and had affairs with both women and men. In 1921 he wrote to his mother saying that he wanted ‘to try and be the greatest painter that has ever lived’. He travelled around Europe and north Africa with Gandarillas, painting a few portraits and still lifes. It was probably about this time that he started to smoke opium, which later became an addiction. He met Picasso and Jean Cocteau (with whom he probably had an affair) and his work was influenced by their styles. He later met the artists Ben and Winifred Nicholson, and on a visit to St Ives with Ben, met Alfred Wallis, whose simple ‘primitive’ style influenced his work. In 1930 he spent some time in the fishing village of Tréboul in Brittany, where he produced a large number of paintings which made his posthumous reputation. He returned to England in August 1930, in debt and mentally disturbed, partly due to his opium addiction, which had tried so hard to stop, without success. He met his mother in Salisbury, then jumped under an express train at Salisbury station, and was killed instantly. His family lived at Reddish House in Broad Chalke in Wiltshire, and he was buried in the churchyard there, and the tomb slab has an inscription by Eric Gill. Close by is the grave of Cecil Beaton, who moved into Reddish House in 1947.


His work can be found at Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery (portrait of Constant Lambert).


Oxford DNB, Tate website and an article in The Guardian.