Wyndham Lewis

Edith Sitwell


Wyndham Lewis 1882–1957
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 864 × 1118 mm
frame: 1041 × 1300 × 85 mm
Presented by Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens 1943

Display caption

Lewis became known as an acerbic writer as well as a painter. Edith Sitwell was a poet and, with her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell, part of a cultural elite. Although Lewis had been close to them in the early 1920s, he heavily satirised them in The Apes of God (1930) as the epitome of cultural decline and vulgarity. The early sittings for this portrait were fraught with problems, such as Lewis’s ‘alarming’ behaviour, and in the end Sitwell refused to sit any more. He shows her as a beautifully painted doll, deprived of the slender hands of which she was known to be proud.

Gallery label, March 2018

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Catalogue entry

N05437 EDITH SITWELL 1923–35
Inscr. ‘Wyndham Lewis’ b.l.
Presented by Sir Edward Beddington Behrens 1943.
Coll: Bought by Major (later Sir) Edward Beddington Behrens from the artist summer 1936.
Exh: On loan to the Tate Gallery between about 1936 and 1939; British Council, Contemporary British Art, Warsaw, Helsingfors and Stockholm, 1939 (55); British Painting since Whistler, National Gallery, 1940 (195); Tate Gallery, July–August 1956 (126), and Arts Council tour, 1956 (41).
Lit: Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering, 1937, pp.215–16; Michael Rothenstein, Looking at Paintings, 1947, p.42, repr. p.43 (in colour); Handley-Read, 1951, pp.29, 40, 44, 72, 74, 96, repr. pl.37; Edith Sitwell, ‘Personal Encounters 3: Hazards of Sitting for my Portrait’ in Observer, 27 November 1960, p.24.
Repr: Studio, CXXVII, 1944, p.148 (in colour); Sir John Rothenstein, British Art since 1900, 1962, pl.70.

A portrait of Dame Edith Sitwell, the poet, begun in 1923. According to the sitter (loc. cit.) she sat ‘every day excepting Sundays for ten months. But in the end his manner became so threatening that I ceased to pose for him, and his portrait of me has, consequently, no hands’.

The portrait was not in fact completed until about 1935. Wyndham Lewis described his relations with the Sitwell family in Blasting and Bombardiering, pp.96–100.

Another ‘Portrait of Edith Sitwell’ was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in July 1949 (26). There are also a number of drawings.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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