Whilst working from my kitchen table, with the Djanogly Gallery closed for the foreseeable future, I thought what better time to bring to light some of the art works in the University’s collection. Normally, these can be difficult for the general public to see because of where they’re displayed or because they are kept in store for their protection. Each week we’ll fetch one of those works ‘out of store’. – Neil Walker, Head of Visual Arts Programming
HOTEL DES PRINCES, MONTE CARLO (c.1926)
By Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
A jaunty little street scene in Monte Carlo, this is a typical demonstration of Christopher Wood’s sophisticated naivety. Deceptively effortless pencil drawing with a wonky perspective lends it a quirky light-hearted feel in keeping with the spirit of the time and his subject: the most glamorous holiday destination on the French Riviera.
A postcard I’ve discovered online shows almost exactly the same view with the Hotel des Princes clearly advertised on the left suggesting it was a familiar tourist spot and likely the area (if not the very hotel) where the artist was then staying.
Wood left England for Paris in 1921 with the grandiose intention of becoming the “greatest painter that has ever lived”.
Described as ‘conveniently bisexual’, he became the lover of Antonio Gandarillas, a wealthy and well-connected Chilean diplomat. Through ‘Tony’ important introductions came his way and Wood quickly found himself at the heart of the Parisian avant-garde counting poet and artist Jean Cocteau among his close circle. In 1925 he wrote to his mother from Monte Carlo “all my friends the artists are here. Picasso is here and I see a lot of him, which gives me more pleasure than anything. He is a delightful person and I think he likes me. He is a great genius and the Leonardo of today”. It was apparently Picasso who persuaded him to give up chalk as a drawing material in favour of pencil.
Click on the picture to open up a bigger view.
Amazingly, for one so young and relatively unknown, around this time Wood was commissioned by Diaghilev, the famous impresario of the Monte Carlo based Ballets Russes, to design the sets for his new ballet: ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Wood’s friend, the English composer Constant Lambert, composed the music. However, the commission came to grief due to a disagreement with the notoriously temperamental Diaghilev as Wood refused to relinquish control over his designs. When the ballet premiered in 1926, it was with sets and costumes by Max Ernst and Joan Miró.
In another letter to his mother from Monte Carlo, Wood reported that Tony had lost an awful lot of money at the gaming tables. Gandarillas undoubtedly introduced Wood to a hedonistic lifestyle that would otherwise have been beyond his means. He also introduced him to smoking opium that sadly for the young artist later became an addiction and the possible cause of his psychosis. The reason that Wood is perhaps not as well known in this country as he might be is due to the fact that his life as a painter was so tragically short. Details of his death are shrouded in mystery but the stark facts are that on 21 August 1930 having just said goodbye to his mother he jumped under a train at Salisbury station. The romantic image of the youthful genius cut down in his prime has followed him ever since and was taken up by Sebastian Faulks in his 1996 book ‘The Fatal Englishman’.
To find out more about Christopher Wood, and to see more of his artworks, visit Art UK's website.
I would like to thank Anne Goodchild, for the information she has supplied on Wood’s time in Monte Carlo. Anne’s book Dear Winifred is an edited collection of letters from Christopher Wood to Ben and Winifred Nicholson.