Primitive painter, born in Devon in August 1855, moved soon to St Ives in Cornwall, where he lived and died. Worked as a fisherman for most of his life, then owned the marine stores on the harbour at St Ives. He took up painting as an old man of 70 after the death of his wife in 1925, in his own words "for company".
For three years he worked alone making pictures of ships, lighthouses and the sea with materials he found around him; marine paint, backs of washing powder packets, flotsam, etc. In 1928 he was discovered by Ben NICHOLSON and Christopher WOOD as they strolled by his house on a Sunday afternoon. They immediately realised the importance of this untrained talent, who had no knowledge or interest in the history of art. Throughout the thirties he was incorporated in exhibitions in London, where Nicholson acted as agent.
But it was really after his death, in poverty and in the work house at Madron, that he was accepted by the art world at large. Alethea GARSTIN was the kind friend who took paints and paper to him when he was incarcerated in the work house. Now his work is held in many public collections, primarily the Tate Gallery, St Ives, and Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. Though utterly primitive and childlike in style, there is a certain sophistication to his work. His ships are delineated with the utmost attention to detail, and his seas are bursting with the energy that is so hard to capture in paint.
Herbert Read (Art Now, 1933) called him 'An old man who still has the eyes of a child'. Adrian STOKES explained: 'He has been a fisherman all his life, accustomed to conceive the sea in relation to what lies beneath it, sand or rock and the living forms of fish. The surface of his sea, seen best on grey days, is the showing also of what lies under it.' (Colour and Form, 1937, p64)