25 August 2021
Bequeathed by Ian Mylles with Art Fund support, 2021
We are delighted to share a new acquisition to the Kettle’s Yard collection: The Play Ground (1928) by Christopher Wood. It joins the largest public collection of works by the British artist.
Born near Liverpool, Wood was close friends with artists Winifred and Ben Nicholson, and Kettle’s Yard creator Jim Ede. He became associated with the Parisian avant-garde during the 1920s, particularly the circle of the French poet, filmmaker, designer and art critic Jean Cocteau, achieving considerable acclaim before his untimely death at the age of 29.
In this drawing, Wood imagines a bustling scene of beachgoers indulging in the pleasures of the seaside. Athletic young men and women clad in fashionable 1920s bathing suits perform a dizzying assortment of activities: sunbathing, playing ballgames, and even doing acrobatics. Wood had spent the summer of 1927 in Cannes, and vividly described his surroundings in a letter to Winifred Nicholson:
This place, so modern, so full of life of things new people, quite unpicturesque in the sense the word but so beautiful […] I think if I can’t really feel something and produce one good thing here it will be time to stop perhaps altogether.
Cannes clearly provided a rich source of inspiration for Wood. Further inspiration came from Wood’s involvement with the Ballets Russes in the mid-1920s. In 1924, the company had staged a performance of Le train bleu, written by Wood’s friend Jean Cocteau. Set on the French Riviera, the ballet featured acrobatic choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, sportswear-style costumes by Coco Chanel, a curtain by Pablo Picasso, and backdrops by Cubist sculptor Henri Laurens.
The Play Ground also hints at the increasingly surreal character of Wood’s later works, with otherworldly and mythological details creeping in to this everyday scene. The ghostly figure of the sea god, reclining in the bottom right corner, can be found in another work in the Kettle’s Yard collection, Ulysses and the Sirens (displayed in the House alongside The Play Ground), which was painted the following. year.