Wyndham Lewis

Ezra Pound

1939

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 762 x 1016 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1939
Reference
N05042

Display caption

In 1914 Wyndham Lewis and the American poet and critic Ezra Pound together promoted Vorticism, an avant-garde movement celebrating the machine age and the artist as a mystic, inventor, and organiser of forms. Both men were controversial writers. Their relationship was at times difficult: in the 1920s Lewis had been very critical of Pound's poetry. But Lewis set aside their differences to produce this tribute to his friend. It is one of a series of portraits Lewis began in 1938, which also included T.S. Eliot and Stephen Spender. The composition is dominated by the diagonal lines of Pound's reclining body and the newspapers, which are offset by the strong verticals on the left.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N05042 EZRA POUND 1939
 
Not inscribed.
Canvas, 30×40 (76·5×102).
Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1939.
Exh: Tate Gallery, July–August 1956 (151).
Lit: Handley-Read, 1951, pp.45, 72, 99–100, repr. pl.47; Letters, 1963, p.390.
Repr: R. H. Wilenski, English Painting, 3rd ed., 1954, pl.164c; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1958, p.109.

A watercolour sketch for the complete composition, inscribed ‘Wyndham Lewis 1938’, is in the possession of Omar Pound. There is a crayon study of the head dated 1938 in the possession of Wyndham T. Vint (repr. Handley-Read, 1951, pl.46), and another dated 1939 in the City Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Ezra Pound, the American poet and critic, first became friendly with Lewis in 1909 or 1910 and played an important part in the Vorticist movement. He was one of those who signed the repudiation of the Futurist manifesto, Vital English Art, and the Vorticist manifesto in Blast, No.1. He contributed the statement ‘Vortex Pound’ to Blast, No.1, and ‘Chronicles’ and some poems to Blast, No.2. In his article, ‘Affirmation, Analysis of this Decade’ in the New Age, 11 February 1915, he cited Lewis, Gaudier-Brzeska and Wadsworth and he published an appreciation of Gaudier-Brzeska, whom he introduced to Lewis, in the New Age, 4 February 1915. It was through Pound that Lewis also met T. S. Eliot and, in Paris, James Joyce. (See Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering, 1937, pp.208–9 and 277–94, and Rude Assignment, 1950, pp.121–2.)

An early full-face three-quarter-length portrait by Wyndham Lewis of Pound standing created a sensation in the Goupil Gallery Salon of 1919 (96; repr. Charles Marriot, Modern Movements in Painting, 1920, facing p.256, and Frank Rutter, Evolution in Modern Art, 1926, pl.32); it is now lost. For three earlier drawings of the sitter, made in 1921, see Handley-Read, 1951, p.99; another example, of 1920, is repr. Letters, 1963, pl.8.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I