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Paris Snow Scene, 1926

Wood’s light handling of paint is appropriate to the weather in Paris Snow Scene. As the stamp on the reverse indicates, the scene was painted on a commercially prepared canvas, the primed surface of which serves as the snow on the ground and the roofs. Some pencil sketching is visible, but this was reworked in black paint for the skeletal trees and railings and for the outlines of the houses. This transfer of drawing techniques into oil, with coloured accents within the open working, is comparable with the urban views of Maurice Utrillo. While not quite achieving the ease of the Frenchman’s work, it carries some of the nervous tension typical of Wood.

Although it dates from before Wood’s friendship with the Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Paris Snow Scene may also be usefully contrasted with Ben Nicholson’s Snowscape of the same year (in the Kettle’s Yard collection). There are obvious differences of location, but comparison of the treatment is revealing. Where the latter captured the density of the weather, Wood attempted to show the crispness that settled snow brings. The trees stand out in detail as the reversal of black to white on the ground brings a revision of the familiar. The sharpness of colour in this piece, exemplified by the blue and red cars at dead centre, call to mind Ben Nicholson’s observation that colour always seemed more intense in the company of Wood.

The view appears to be that from the window of the Parisian flat belonging to Tony Gandarillas, Wood’s mentor and companion, at the east end of the Avenue Montaigne. The artist made a number of paintings and drawings of this scene. The downward view into the street had been favoured by the Impressionists and Matisse, as it suggests an instantaneous glimpse of activity observed with impartiality. An enthusiasm for the dynamics of urban existence had supporters across the cultural spectrum in the 1920s, from newspapers to the avant-garde Purist periodical L’Esprit Nouveau, to which Wood was a subscriber.

Provenance: purchased from the artist (or the estate) by H.S. Ede, date unknown

Painting [CW 9]

Displayed

Oil on canvas

450 x 545 mm

About the artist

Wood was born in Liverpool. Through extended visits to Paris between 1921 and 1924 he came into contact with the European avant-garde, meeting Picasso and Jean Cocteau in 1923. In Britain he became close friends with Ben and Winifred Nicholson, painting with them in Cumberland in 1928. That year he also met Alfred Wallis on a visit to St. Ives with Ben Nicholson, and lived near Wallis for several months. He first visited Brittany in 1929, returning in 1930. During his Parisian years Wood was introduced to opium by Cocteau. He became addicted to it and was under the drug's influence when he was killed by a train at Salisbury station.