Beginning in 1910 Marinetti made several trips to London, seeking the excitement of Futurism in the world’s most populous city. He tempered his admiration with provocative criticism: ‘You lack both a sharp, adventurous love of ideas and an impulse towards unknown of the imagination’, he told his audience, ‘you lack a passion for the future and a thirst for revolution.’ His words and the arrival of the Futurist exhibition in 1912 struck a chord.
Writer and painter Wyndham Lewis and his circle aimed to throw off the sensuality of Impressionism and embrace a more austere modernism. Futurism – together with Cubism and Imagist poetry – provided possible routes towards this innovation. The only British painter to ally himself directly to Futurism was C.R.W. Nevinson, who co-authored the manifesto Vital English Art with Marinetti. However, their attempts to claim Lewis and other avant-garde British artists as Futurists backfired. Lewis responded by launching Vorticism, and the first issue of its periodical Blast included scathing references to ‘Marinettism’. Though sharing much with Futurism on the level of dynamism, Vorticism was more closely engaged with an angular abstraction. The ‘vortex’ was a still point amid a whorl of energy. The rare surviving paintings by Lewis and Wadsworth give a sense of the severe control of Vorticism.