Wyndham Lewis, 'Workshop' circa 1914-5

Wyndham Lewis
Workshop circa 1914-5
Oil on canvas
support: 765 x 610 mm frame: 915 x 760 x 75 mm
Purchased 1974© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

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Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957), the self-styled leader of Britain’s avant-garde, lived in Paris from 1902 to 1908 and witnessed there radical changes in art. It is not known whether he ever met Picasso, but his work suggests that he saw Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. Lewis’s mentor, the painter Augustus John, had certainly seen it in Picasso’s studio soon after it was made.

In 1914, Lewis announced his new avant-garde movement, Vorticism, with the publication of its journal, BLAST. There he criticised Picasso’s limited subject matter and lack of formal energy, saying that Picasso was putting the modern movement under a cloud: ‘the exquisite and accomplished, but discouraged, sentimental and inactive, personality of Picasso’. The dynamic arcs and diagonals of Vorticist aesthetics are a distinctive development of the discoveries of Cubism – a style that had clearly affected Lewis’s earlier figure style. But Lewis contrasted Vorticism’s concerns with the modern world, especially the city, with Picasso’s concentration on the closed world of the studio.

Following the First World War, Lewis set out to frighten away the ‘cultivated and snobbish game’ of what he saw as the introspective world of Picasso and his Bloomsbury supporters. His aggressive, cynical figures first appeared at the Leicester Galleries, London, in April 1921, only weeks after Picasso’s first post-war exhibition in London.