Paule Vézelay (1892–1984) was one of the pioneers of twentieth-century abstraction in Britain. She worked across a range of media, exploring common ideas and forms through painting, sculpture and textiles.
Born Marjorie Watson-Williams in Bristol, she moved to London in 1912 to study at the London School of Art under George Belcher, the Punch cartoonist, developing a humorous, illustrative early style. In 1926 she moved to Paris and adopted the name ‘Paule Vézelay’, possibly in the hope that its French-sounding origin would afford her greater opportunities as an artist. Abandoning her figurative approach she began depicting organic, biomorphic and geometric forms as well as creating relief works and sculptures.
During her time in Paris, Vézelay became part of an international network of leading avant-garde artists, including Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber- Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Joan Miró and Marlow Moss. She grew particularly close to André Masson and in 1934 joined the association of non-figurative artists ‘Abstraction-Création’.
Vézelay returned to England at the outbreak of the Second World War, where she found critics and the public less supportive of her modern style. She turned to textile design as an additional source of income but continued to work as an artist until the end of her life, and was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1983.
Many of the works in this display reveal Vézelay’s enduring interest in the line in space. In 1942, quoting French poet Arthur Rimbaud, she proclaimed, ‘Cords have I stretched from belltower to belltower; garlands I strung from window to window; with gold have I linked one star to another, and I dance.’
Curated by Inga Fraser with Simon Grant