Christopher ("Kit") Wood was born near Liverpool on 7 April 1901, the son of a local GP on the Earl of Derby's Knowley estate. Wood studed architecture briefly at Liverpool University (1919-20). Here he met Augustus John, who encouraged him to be a painter and he first studied drawing at the Académie Julian in 1921. He travelled around Europe and North Africa between 1922 and 1924. He moved easily in artistic circles, meeting the Chilean diplomat Antonio de Gandarillas. As well as providing financial support, Gandarillas introduced Wood to Picasso, the composer Georges Auric and Jean Cocteau, and to the use of opium.
From 1924, Wood made increasing numbers of visits to Cocteau at the Hôtel Wellcome in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Here he met and engaged with Cocteau's circle, including Picasso, and this led to his first opportunity for stage design when Picasso and in 1925 Cocteau introduced him to Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballet Russes. A number of designs for his first ballet (working with the young English composer Constant Lambert) Romeo and Juliet, date from 1925, the year of this painting.
In 1924, Kit Wood showed his first pictures at Heal's in London. He travelled widely with Gandarillas in 1925, to Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Rome and London. As early as 1925, his biographer Eric Newton wrote, 'he had painted pictures that could have been painted by no one else'. By 1925, Wood had already been mentioned in several fashion magazines as a 'bright young person'. The work he produced in 1925 and early 1926 became the subject of his first major exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London, which he shared with Paul Nash. He was to meet and impress Ben and Winifred Nicholson for the first time in 1926, and they became lifelong friends.
Wood's flower paintings and associated still life paintings, usually including flowers, are amongst his best known and most appealing, sought-after works. The present painting, Carnations in a Glass Vase, is certainly one of his best although little known or exhibited until now. Wood was fond of flowers as a subject, and this painting shows a degree of maturity by which his pictures from this year were characterised. This and others from 1925 also reveal for the first time his incredible and unique understanding of colour and harmony. In 1925 alone, he painted about 60 pictures, many of which were flower compositions: Poppies in a Decorated Jar, Mimosa, Dahlias, White Tulips, Flowers, Anemones, more Tulips, Chrysanthemums and Roses!
Sadly, Kit Wood fell under a train in 1930, either by accident or design but his addiction to opium was the source of his demise.
Since Kit Wood's death, his work has been celebrated by a major retrospective at the Royal Academy and the Redfern Gallery in 1938, as well as being represented at the Venice Biennale in the same year, and fifty years later in a touring exhibition by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1979. His pictures can be found in major collections including the Tate Gallery, London; the Louvre, Paris; the Graves Gallery, Sheffield; Kettle's Yard, Cambridge; HRH The Prince of Wales; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Philips Collection in Washington DC, USA, to name only a few.
We are very grateful to Dr. William Mason for preparing this catalogue entry.