Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, March 16, 2014

War Artist Percy Wyndham Lewis

British painter, novelist, and critic Percy Wyndham Lewis was born on his parents' yacht, off Amherst, Nova Scotia,  on 18 November 1882 and he died in  London 7 March 1957.  He was the son of a British mother and a wealthy American father. He came to England as a child, studied at the Slade School, 1898–1901, then lived on the Continent for seven years, mostly in Paris. 

Wyndham Lewis in 1913

In 1909 he returned to England and in the years leading up to the First World War emerged as one of the chief figures in British avant-garde art. From 1911 he developed an angular, machine-like, semi-abstract style that had affinities with both Cubism and Futurism. He worked for a short time with Roger Fry at the Omega Workshops, but after quarreling with him in 1914 he formed the Rebel Art Centre, from which grew Vorticism, a movement of which he was the chief figure and whose journal, Blast, he edited. He served with the Royal Artillery, 1915–17, and as an Official War Artist, 1917–18, carrying his Vorticist style into works such as "A Battery Shelled" (1918, Imperial War Museum, London). 

First World War Work

Officers and Signalers, 1918

A Battery Position in a Wood, 1918

A Battery Shelled, 1919

A Canadian Gun-Pit, 1918

In 1919 he founded Group X as an attempt to revive Vorticism, but this failed, and from the late 1920s he devoted himself mainly to writing, in which he often made savage attacks on his contemporaries (particularly the Bloomsbury Group). His association with the British Fascist Party and his praise of Hitler alienated him from the literary world. Lewis was the most original and idiosyncratic of the major British artists working in the first decades of the 20th century, and he was among the first artists in Europe to produce completely abstract paintings and drawings. He built his personal style on features taken from Cubism and Futurism but did not accept either. He accused Cubism of failure to "synthesize the quality of life with the significance or spiritual weight that is the mark of all the greatest art" and of being mere visual acrobatics. The Futurists, he wrote, had the vivacity that the Cubists lacked, but they themselves lacked the grandness and the "great plastic qualities" that Cubism achieved. His own work, he declared, was "electric with a mastered and vivid vitality." He wrote several books, including novels, notably Tarr (1918), and collections of essays and criticism. Blasting and Bombardiering (1937), Wyndham Lewis the Artist (1939), and Rude Assignment (1950) are autobiographical.

Second World War Work

A Canadian War Factory, 1944

Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)

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