French Cyclists with a Girl

WAG 2005.13


This painting, with its lightly applied colour and sketchy lines, shows the influence of French artist and filmaker Jean Cocteau’s (1889-1963) fluid drawing style. Whilst living in France, Christopher Wood regularly made drawings of cyclists, dancers, sailors and bathers in this style. Though Wood studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris, he was largely self-taught. His style combined child-like simplicity with a limited range of colours. Cocteau had also encouraged Wood’s use of opium as a means of freeing creative expression. It was his dependence on the drug that led to his untimely death, aged 29. In a state of extreme paranoia, Wood jumped in front of an express train at Salisbury Train Station in 1930. Born in Knowsley, Christopher Wood studied architecture at Liverpool University before heading to London to pursue a career as an artist. After developing a friendship with well-connected, gay, art collector Alphonse Kahn, Wood was invited to stay at his luxurious home in Paris. Kahn introduced Wood to the Parisian social scene, where he met artists such as Cocteau. However, it was Wood’s relationship with Chilean diplomat Antonio Gandarillas, who was married but attracted to men, that allowed him to settle in Paris and develop his career. Gandarillas funded Wood’s bohemian lifestyle and introduced him to important creative contacts. They lived together in a non-exclusive relationship for six years. After their seperation they remained close friends, even through Wood’s later relationships with women. The painting was previously owned by the actor and writer Dirk Bogarde. According to John Coldstream (Bogarde’s biographer) Bogarde brought it to cheer himself up after he was forced to give up his beloved parrot, Annie, in 1968. Both works were on display at the house in France he shared with his manager and life partner Tony Forwood.