“Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro”- Wyndham Lewis
For many years now, one of my favorite books to just sit and flip through is my now very worn copy of A Dictionary of Art Quotes by Ian Crofton. It has great quotes by artists and critics about artists, schools of art and assorted other things that have to do with art. The thing that I like most is that Crofton keeps it subjective, often having opposing points of view under each heading. You might read one quote praising an artist while the very next might be one that portrays him as a hack. It’s interesting to see this contrast of perceptions, often by the artist’s contemporaries.
Some artists receive no negative words against their work or personality– Henri Rousseau, for instance, who was much beloved and respected by his contemporaries. Most have positive quotes with an occasional barb thrown in their direction. But the section concerning one artist, Percy Wyndham Lewis, really stuck out when I read it. There is not anything that could be perceived as positive–Ernest Hemingway even said he had the “eyes of a rapist.” Not knowing much about this artist, it prompted to find out a little more about Wyndham Lewis, as he preferred to be called.
It didn’t take much research to discover reasons behind the vitriol directed at him.
First, a little background. Lewis was born in Nova Scotia in 1882, educated in England, lost his eyesight in the late 1940’s and died in 1957. He was an extraordinarily talented painter and writer and the founder of the Vorticists, an art and literary movement derived from Cubism that flourished in the years before World War I but died out in the aftermath. He painted and drew , wrote well received novels and published a ground-breaking art magazine, Blast. No lack of talent, that is for sure
“T.S. Eliot”- Wyndham Lewis
But from what I can deduct, he was a very contentious and very opinionated, always seeking an argument or looking to tweak those he viewed as his intellectual inferiors. He ruffled more than his share of feathers. As he said, “It is more comfortable for me, in the long run, to be rude than polite.” But his biggest offense came in the early 1930’s when he wrote in favor of Hitler and the Fascists, believing them to be the keys to maintaining peace in Europe. That was, to be sure, not well received and was for many unpardonable even though Lewis did reverse his views later after a 1937 trip to Berlin when it became obvious to him that he had gravely misjudged the intent of Hitler. He wrote a number of items against Hitler and Fascism and in defense of the Jews of Europe but the damage was done: he was a persona non grata.
He basically disappeared from the art scene although he continued to write prolifically, even after the loss of his sight. There was a re-interest in his painting and Vorticism in the mid-50’s , just a year or two before his death and in subsequent years his profile as an artist has regained some of its lost stature. He is consdiered among the finest of British portrait painters. His painting of poet T.S.. Eliot, shown here, is considered one of his finest and one of the great examples of British portrait painting.
I picked up a book on his portraiture and find it very compelling. The self portrait at the top of the page, Mr Wyndham Lewis as Tyro, really stood out for me as did the ominous Praxitella, below. An interesting character. I was glad to come across his work and will continue to explore it.
Praxitella– Wyndham Lewis
A Battery Shelled- Wyndham Lewis
Seated Figure- Wyndham Lewis
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