Shipwreck 2,  The Wreck of the Alba” by Alfred Wallis

June 22nd 2024


“Shipwreck 2,  The Wreck of the Alba” Alfred Wallis, 1938-40, Kettle’s Year, Cambridge. 

In January 1938 the steamship Alba, carrying coal from Wales to Civitavecchia, encountered a severe storm in the Bristol Channel.  Some of the crew described the waves as being 40 ft high. In the darkness they mistook the lights of the coastal settlement of Porthmeor for those of St Ives  and the ship was driven unto the rocks near St Ives.   A life boat went to the rescue and got all the crew onboard but then it capsized under the force of a powerful wave.  Both crews were thrown into the water. Most were rescued by onlookers who had scrambled down the rocks.  In all, 5 of the Alba’s 23 crew members were lost. The morning light revealed the wreck run aground and still battered by huge waves with the lifeboat perched nearby on the rocks.  The wreck became quite an attraction and its cargo kept the people of St Ives warm for years afterwards.

The local artist Alfred Wallis painted the wreck a number of times. Wallis was a fisherman from Devon, who first went to sea at the age of 9. In 1890 he moved to St Ives and became a marine scrap merchant.  After the death of his wife in 1925 he began to paint because he said it kept the loneliness at bay.  In 1928 he was “discovered” by artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood.  From that encounter onwards, their own patron Jim Ede, of the Tate, regularly received paintings from Wallis in bundles by post.   “i never see anything i send you now it is what i have seen before i am self taught so you cannot me like those that have been taught both in school and paint i have to learn myself i never go out to paint nor i never shaw them” (Wallis in a letter to Eden 1936).  Wallis died in the poor house in 1942.  Jim Ede had never met him but he had built up a large collection of his works.  Wallis painted on scraps of paper and wood; the jetsam harvested from the sea and the port which gave him his livelihood. He had no training in art but he knew shipping and the sea and his works have a raw directness, which, perhaps, a more sophisticated artist would find hard to equal.  Here the unspent force of the waves against the wreck is powerfully conveyed by literally painting the waves over the hull. Now read the gospel and put yourself in that boat!

Shipwreck 2,  The Wreck of the Alba” by Alfred Wallis

Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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