Making Vorticism: The Emerging Art of Wyndham Lewis, 1908-1915

Andrew Johnson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My thesis approaches Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist oeuvre from first principles; how he made key drawings and paintings. The methodological principles that went into Lewis’s Vorticism – for example the interactions of Cubism and Futurism - can be discerned through direct physical examination, structural form analysis, style progression, and use of colour. I avoid a chronological approach. Two works are chosen for in-depth research, the painting ‘The Crowd (1914-15) and the drawing Abstract Bird (1914). Both works reveal strong art historical input not previously researched; the latter from Japanese prints, the former in its structural engagement with the painting Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well by the early fourteenth century Italian master, Duccio di Buoninsegna. I argue that Wyndham Lewis reciprocates modernism’s vogue for ‘archaizing’ Bronze Age Greece into a model that animates the myth of antiquity by layering historical material into the pressing sociological and political questions of contemporary Western society. I demonstrate this through a close reading of his Vorticist oeuvre with special attention to the painting, The Crowd. Lewis saw himself as a visionary in his art and literature striving to address these questions in pre-figuring modernist literature, most strikingly in Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Within his circle, Pound and Hulme were similarly occupied in looking to the deep past to model the attitudinal changes affecting modern society. Outside the circle, Fry was similarly engaged in redefining art to meet the requirements for modern art, and contrary to the accepted view he was surprisingly close in his approach and conclusions to Lewis. Into this maelstrom of historical layering Nietzche’s prophesizing the age of tragedy and Bergson’s radical recasting of time were never far from the surface.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Townsend, Christopher, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Vorticism
  • Wyndham Lewis

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