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We are delighted to announce the acquisition, jointly with Tate, of three important and rare sketchbooks by Alfred Wallis. All three sketchbooks were made in the last year of the artist’s life, which he spent in a workhouse near Penzance due to illness and poverty.

The sketchbooks have recently been on display in our exhibition Alfred Wallis Rediscovered. Prior to this exhibition, they had not been exhibited in a public exhibition for over 50 years and very little was known about them or researched. They have now been purchased jointly by Tate and Kettle’s Yard with funds provided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Tate Members and Friends of Kettle’s Yard, and with Art Fund support.

Alfred Wallis Sketchbook, 1941-2. Purchased jointly by Tate and Kettle’s Yard with funds provided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Tate Members, Friends of Kettle’s Yard and with Art Fund Support 2020

At the workhouse, called the Madron Institute, Wallis was removed from his marine ship paints and the off-cuts of cardboard and wood, as well as household items such as jugs and trays, that he would often use. Instead, he became reliant on artists’ materials supplied by Ben Nicholson and Adrian Stokes – sketchbooks, pencils, crayons and enamel paints. The sketchbooks are filled with pencil and crayon works, and some paintings. The sketches are not preparatory studies for larger works, but self-contained works in their own right and feature many of the recognisable subjects and scenes to which Wallis repeatedly returned throughout his lifetime. Wallis signed his name on many of them, suggesting by this time that he had an increased awareness of himself as a professional artist. The books also contain religious subjects which perhaps point to the artist’s awareness of his own mortality in the final year of his life.

Alfred Wallis Sketchbook, 1941-2. Purchased jointly by Tate and Kettle’s Yard with funds provided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Tate Members, Friends of Kettle’s Yard and with Art Fund Support 2020

Andrew Nairne, Director of Kettle’s Yard says:

“We are thrilled to be jointly acquiring these remarkable artworks with Tate, which adds to our understanding of the work of this exceptional artist. The sketchbooks were presented in our recent exhibition Alfred Wallis Rediscovered, and have been really appreciated by visitors.”

Nicci Steele-Williams, Chair of the Friends says:

“The Friends of Kettle’s Yard are really delighted to support the co-acquisition of these fascinating sketchbooks, which not only supplement the important collection of Alfred Wallis’s works at Kettle’s Yard but also provide valuable material for further research into this self-taught artist’s later paintings and working processes. It is wonderful that they have been digitised too, to share their contents with an even wider audience.”

Watch a film of the sketchbook pages here:

Find out more about the acquisition in our press release.