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Christopher Wood, Building the boat Tréboul, 1930

“I love ships, they have such interesting lives”

Christopher Wood

About this work

Building the Boat, Tréboul depicts the boat builders in Place de l’Enfer, just a short walk from the small village of Tréboul, in Douarnenez. It was an important port for sardine fishing and is still a centre for boat building and repair work today. The painting is characteristic of Christopher Wood’s style and methods in the last months of his life. Inspired by the example of Vincent Van Gogh, he explored rural and natural themes in search of a retreat from his troubles.

The composition is carefully conceived and derived from the actual presence of a boat being built beside the port, confirmed by a closely related canvas, The New Boat, Tréboul, which shows the boat in the same state of construction. Unexpectedly, an old woman holds a plank. This use of the unconventional seems to indicate that the painter found some particular significance in the gesture. He dressed the woman in black and made her the focus of the foreground and of the gossip of her companions behind. The impression of mourning is forceful and the way she hugs the wood suggests consolation. The implications of concerns with mortality are consistent both with the subject and with the period in which the canvas was painted.

Why is it at Kettle’s Yard?

Jim Ede’s collection was largely formed while he worked at the National Gallery in the 1920s and 1930s. Ben Nicholson introduced Jim Ede and Christopher Wood in 1926, and they quickly became fast and loyal friends. Correspondence and diary entries show they were in regular contact between 1927 and 1930 and Ede organised a memorial exhibition of Wood’s work with the Lefevre Gallery in 1932. Ede owned this painting by 1932, having presumably acquired it in the division of the artist’s estate in late 1930. He had made some attempt to interest the Tate Trustees in Wood’s work, but remarked that the painter was considered “consciously naïve and not inevitably so” within the institution.

In A Way of Life Ede wrote of Building the Boat, Tréboul:

“skeletons of ships in process of being built, which foreshadow the skeletons of the fishermen who would take them out to sea and not return. Wives and mothers, who had sent their husbands and their sons, help a younger generation to build new ships of death. I see this in his thought since he wrote of it in a letter. How pictorially he has visualized it; without a shade of sentimentality. It is a clear statement, vigorous and human.”

Buy the book

Kettle’s Yard has the largest public collection of works by Christopher Wood, our book tells the story of Wood through the works in the collection and includes ‘Notes on Christopher Wood’ by Jim Ede. The book has over 40 colour illustrations, costs £12 and can be bought here or by calling us on 01223 748100.