The vorticists were a British avant-garde group formed in London in 1914 with the aim of creating art that expressed the dynamism of the modern world
Vorticist painting combines cubist fragmentation of reality with hard-edged imagery derived from the machine and the urban environment.
The group was founded by the artist, writer and polemicist, Wyndham Lewis in 1914. Their only group exhibition was held in London the following year. Vorticism was launched with the first issue (of two) of the magazine Blast which contained among other material two aggressive manifestos by Lewis ‘blasting’ what he considered to be the effeteness of British art and culture and proclaiming the vorticist aesthetic: ‘The New Vortex plunges to the heart of the Present – we produce a New Living Abstraction’.
It was, in effect, a British equivalent to futurism, although with doctrinal differences, and Lewis was deeply hostile to the futurists. Other artists involved with the group were Lawrence Atkinson, Jessica Dismorr, Cuthbert Hamilton, William Roberts, Helen Saunders, Edward Wadsworth, and the sculptors Sir Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. David Bomberg was not formally a member of the group but produced major work in a similar style.
The First World War brought vorticism to an end, although in 1920 Lewis made a brief attempt to revive it with Group X. The horrors of war brought about a rejection of the avant-garde in favour of traditional art making, known as return to order.
Vorticism in Tate’s collection
- See vorticist artworks in Tate’s collection
- Or browse the selection of works in the slideshow below
BLAST! The radical vorticist Manifesto
This short article looks at the humour and significance of the vorticist’s 1914 journal Blast, a magazine which only lasted two issues. Find out about the second one in this article.
Vorticist artists in focus
Wyndham Lewis was an author and painter. From 1911 he developed an angular, machine-like style which combined the abstract language of cubism with the dynamism of futurism.
Lost Art: Wyndham Lewis
How do you a discuss a painting when no one knows what it looks like? This fascinating article looks at Lewis’ lost piece Kermesse, made in 1912.
Picasso and Wyndham Lewis
This text which is part of the room guide to the 2012 Tate Britain Picasso & Modern Art exhibition, explains Lewis’ criticism of Picasso’s work, despite being influenced by cubism.
Audio Arts: Volume 1 No 2
Listen to this 1939 recording of Wyndham Lewis reading extracts from One Way Song: The Song of the Militant Romance, If So, The Man You Are, Enemy Interlude and hear Mrs Anne Wyndham Lewis talk about his character and admiration of painter Francis Bacon in 1974.
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was the chief sculptor of the vorticism movement and was killed in the First World War at the age of 23.
Read Gaudier-Brzeska’s biography and see which of his artworks are in Tate’s collection.
In this short film, curator Chris Stephens looks from one of Gaudier-Brzeska’s sketchbooks and explains how these sketches enhances our understanding of some of his most memorable works.
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Ezra Pound’s head
This blog post discusses Gaudier-Brzeska’s most ambitious work, Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound 1914, and how direct carving was a marker of modernism.
Moving forms: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculptures
Curator Chris Stephens reflects on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s figurative sculptures.
Helen Saunders along with Jessica Dismorr were the only two official female members of the vorticists. She contributed to Blast, but signed her name ‘H. Saunders’, perhaps to disguise her gender.
Watch this TateShot with art historian Biddy Peppin who tells the story of the obstacles faced by Helen Saunders and other female vorticists.
The Women Vorticists – Helen Saunders
This piece discusses Helen Saunders’ role within vorticism and introduces her rare watercolours.
Women that a movement forgot
This article looks at how Helen Saunders and also Jessica Dismorr and Dorothy Shakespear developed their own personal vorticist language and their significance on the movement.
Vorticism in context
Watch curator Chris Stephens explore British art from 1914 and 1915, a time when vorticism was at its peak, in this short film.
Modernity in Conflict - Michael Nath
Lecturer Michael Nath examines the contribution of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticist movement to the formation of avant-garde artistic practice and metropolitan culture in early twentieth-century Britain.
Vorticism in detail
Repositioning Vorticism conference video recordings
Watch the video recordings to this symposium which looks at vorticism within its wider cultural and historical context, asserting the importance of Anglo-American exchange and investigating its multi-disciplinarity.
Drawing the vortex
This Tate Etc. article takes a closer look at the Blast manifesto and Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculpture.