H.S. (Jim) Ede restored and lived in, Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, which had previously been four tumbledown cottages. His house became a gift to the University of Cambridge providing a backdrop for his collection and an environment for study. Ede never saw his house as a gallery, and even less so a museum, however, it was where he chose to display his collection of works of art, furniture, china and glass. He had known and been close friends with many of the most influential British artists of the Twentieth Century including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, David Jones and Christopher Wood.
Painted in 1930, the present work dates from the most fruitful year of Wood's career. Wood had returned to Tréboul in June 1930 in the company of Frosca Munster, and proceeded to embark on a frenzied period of painting, producing some sixty canvases within forty days.
In The Fatal Englishman, Sebastian Faulks wrote of this remarkable time, 'Christopher Wood's summer of 1930 seemed to have the makings of myth even as it was being lived ... Tréboul was not merely a convenient and quiet place to paint; it provided subject matter, inspiration and the atmosphere in which Wood finally brought together his technique and his ambition for it, with the result that he was able to plunder his emotions - something which until then he had been able to do only with frustrating inconsistency. Once he had unlocked this power, he exploited it relentlessly: he worked by day and by night, using postcards to prompt his memory of a scene when the light had gone.
'The paintings that resulted were basically landscapes and seascapes, characterised by the presence of sailing boats, Breton peasants, whitewashed churches and cottages, dark grass, fir and cypress trees on the cliff's edge and the day-to-day objects of the life of fishermen and their families. Within this framework, however, he introduced remarkable variations. Some of the figures were, as he intended, like drawings from Holbein, but in other paintings he worked in more modern ways ... Wood portrayed a mystical union between people and place. They were one and the same: they had 'sprung up spontaneously from their patch of earth'. Wood had realistically depicted this autochthonous quality of the people; yet he also made them look like gods ... The result was that Wood's own vision at last came blazing out in all its curious and contradictory forms' (The Fatal Englishman Three Short Lives, London, 1996, pp. 83-4).
In a letter of 1930 to Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Wood commented that he was tiring of painting boats and ports and decided to turn to architectural subject matter, the structural and solid qualities of which enabled him to create 'more peaceful compositions'. Often these depictions of Brittany churches or village squares were painted with the use of postcards and resulted in an amalgam of different topographical parts. In the present work the church and juxtaposed Breton market dominate the composition, while, on the right, a cluster of white houses sit on the receeding hills. These houses are strikingly similar to those that appear in Ben Nicholson's Cornish paintings of the 1930s and reveal the strong link between the two artists.
The present work is typical of this important period of Wood's work in that it demonstrates a fascinating duality apparent in many of his later paintings. Eric Newton commented, 'His best paintings are at the same time radiant and faintly sinister. Fra Angelico and el Greco seem, for once, to have met on common ground. There is an unclouded purity, at times a rapture in his pictures, but there is also a thunderstorm somewhere in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it is the inky blue-black of the sea, sometimes a leaden sky, more often a series of sinister shapes that cannot be analysed, that set the mood' (op. cit., p. 46).
Although Wood had previously tried to control his opium habit, by the start of 1930 he was heavily addicted to the drug and had to rely on an inconsistent supply from friends in Paris. His use of opium may well have contributed to the dream-like quality apparent in the Tréboul works and the heightened colour scheme that defines them.