American maritime artist John P Benson celebrated in a new book

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Paintings by John P Benson – click on each for a larger photo.
The images that were here earlier are now linked to thumbnails below

John Prentis Benson – American Marine Artist, which comes out early in the New Year, will be the first sizeable book about an important artist who has only recently become recognised or even collectable.

The lack of interest in John P Benson is perhaps surprising, as he was the brother of the renowned American Impressionist, Frank Benson.

Overshadowed in his youth by his highly talented brother, John P Benson practised as an architect for many years before finally becoming a full-time working artist in his 50s.

Once established in his studio at Kittery, Maine, however, he was prolific and painted over 750 works between 1925 and his death in 1947.

Of these, only about 300 are known, which leaves 450 or so either in private hands and yet to be located, or destroyed. Many of Benson’s paintings are still to be found, and possible owners should know that they sell for up to $50,000 when they appear at auction.

Experts say that despite the family connection, Benson’s style was only moderately Impressionistic, and that his work also incorporated elements of Realism and Romanticism.

Benson was born in 1865 in Salem, Massachusetts and grew up a few streets away from the town’s seaport, which is said to have fascinated the young artist. Later in life he painted mainly contemporary and historical ships and boats, and seascapes, and his boats and ships are noted for their detail and accuracy, and his work is said to have influenced  current marine artists such as Geoff Hunt, who illustrated the covers of Patrick O’Brian’s well known novels.

I’d like to thank Bob Holtzman for sending me this story – many readers will know him as the editor of the weblog Indigenous Boats, but he’s also a freelance PR consultant, writer and editor. He’s clearly a diligent operator who understands his media, for he has clearly recognised that is very fond of a good painting!

For more on the artist and book, visit

Alfred Wallis, artist and chandler of St Ives

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Examples of Alfred Wallis’s work. Click on each one
for a larger image

Like most other areas of human activity, the art establishment tends to favour its own – so no matter how bohemian they may be, most artists are cultured and educated, and quite often rather posh. But every now and again the art establishment finds an artist whose work it finds so interesting and charming that the usual rules no longer apply. Beryl Cook was one of these – and Alfred Wallis was another.

Wallis seems to have had many roles – he was first a basket-maker, then a hand on merchant seaman, then a deep-sea fisherman, and then ran a business as marine stores dealer in St Ives, buying scrap iron, sails, rope and other items until his business closed in 1912. He then went to work for a local antiques dealer, an experience that may provided some understanding of the world of objets d’art.

He seems to have begun painting in earnest after his wife died. Short of money as he was, he painted on whatever objects came to hand and his subjects were often seascapes painted from memories going back to the era before the steamships took over from sail.

Life changed for him in 1928 when a group of artists led by Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson set up the well known artists’ colony in the little town, for their arrival led to Wallis’s discovery by the art world.

Recognition doesn’t seem to have brought riches, for he eventually died in the workhouse in Penzance, but  Wallises are now highly collectible, and the artist behind them has become a legend. I gather that examples of his work have even been minaturised and made into fridge magnets…

Read all about Alfred Wallis and see the galleries of his work at

Wallis meets Ben Nicholson in 1928,
photographed by Christopher Wood