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

Wyndham Lewis, 'Workshop' circa 1914-5
Wyndham Lewis
Workshop circa 1914-5
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

Introduction to vorticism

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

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  • Jessica Dismorr, 'Abstract Composition' circa 1915
    Jessica Dismorr
    Abstract Composition circa 1915
    Oil on wood
    support: 413 x 508 mm
    frame: 490 x 585 x 39 mm
    Purchased 1968
  • David Bomberg, 'The Mud Bath' 1914
    David Bomberg
    The Mud Bath 1914
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1524 x 2242 mm
    frame: 1718 x 2427 x 70 mm
    Purchased 1964© Tate
  • Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 'Red Stone Dancer' circa 1913
    Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
    Red Stone Dancer circa 1913
    Red Mansfield stone
    object: 432 x 229 x 229 mm
    Presented by C. Frank Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1930
  • William Roberts, ''The Withered Root' by Rhys Davies' 1927
    William Roberts
    'The Withered Root' by Rhys Davies 1927
    Printed book jacket
    support: 184 x 162 mm
    Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007© The estate of William Roberts
  • Edward Wadsworth, 'Abstract Composition' 1915
    Edward Wadsworth
    Abstract Composition 1915
    Gouache, pen and pencil on paper
    support: 419 x 343 mm
    frame: 690 x 530 x 15 mm
    Purchased 1956© The estate of Edward Wadsworth
  • Sir Jacob Epstein, 'Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'' 1913-14
    Sir Jacob Epstein
    Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14
    Bronze
    object: 705 x 584 x 445 mm
    Purchased 1960© The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein
  • Helen Saunders, 'Abstract Multicoloured Design' circa 1915
    Helen Saunders
    Abstract Multicoloured Design circa 1915
    Gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper
    support: 359 x 257 mm
    Presented by Miss Ethel M. Saunders in memory of her sister 1963© The estate of Helen Saunders

Further resources

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.

The Vorticists: Curator’s Talk
Listen to art critic, historian and curator Richard Cork expand on the themes of the 2011 Tate Britain exhibition The vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World.

Vorticist artists in focus

Wyndham Lewis

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.

Wyndham Lewis, 'Planners: Happy Day' 1912-3
Wyndham Lewis
Planners: Happy Day 1912-3
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

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

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was the chief sculptor of the vorticism movement and was killed in the First World War at the age of 23.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's Chenil Sketchbook, Ornament, Temple of the Serpent and Red Stone Dancer
Three pages from Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's Chenil Sketchbook (c.1913 - 1914). L to R: Sketches for Ornament (Toothbrush) (sheet 23), sketch after the Temple of the Serpent (56), sketch for Red Stone Dancer (77)


Artist biography
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

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

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 'Fish' 1914
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Fish 1914

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. 

Related glossary terms

Rebel art centre, group x, futurism, London group