Wyndham Lewis

(1882—1957) artist and writer

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British writer and painter; the founder of vorticism, he is also known for his portraits. In his books he attacked and satirized the cultural establishment.

Lewis was born on his father's yacht in the bay of Fundy, Maine, USA (his father was American, his mother British). He attended Rugby School, studied art at the Slade School in London, and then studied and lived on the Continent, mainly in France (1901–09). Back in England he had stories published by The English Review and exhibited his paintings with the Camden Town Group (1911) and at Roger Fry's postimpressionist exhibition (1912). Breaking with Fry (Lewis was notoriously quarrelsome), he founded his own movement, known as vorticism, which aimed to reflect the pace and technology of modern life. He publicized vorticism in a review entitled Blast, of which just two issues (1914–15) appeared; he also organized the sole British exhibition of vorticist art (1915).

In 1916 Lewis enlisted in the army and served in France both as soldier and as official war artist. His first novel, Tarr, appeared in book form in 1918. During the 1920s and 1930s Lewis maintained a prolific output of books and articles, besides holding several exhibitions of his paintings. The Childermass (1928) became the first part of his trilogy The Human Age, which he completed with Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta (both 1955), and The Apes of God (1930) satirizes art and literature in contemporary London. As a painter he was particularly successful as a portraitist. Among his other writings, Hitler (1931) aroused much hostility by its adulation of the Führer, hostility that was not overcome by his recantation in The Hitler Cult (1939).

Lewis and his wife, whom he had married in 1929, spent World War II in straitened circumstances in the USA and Canada, both of which Lewis detested. He returned to England in 1945 and continued writing and painting; he was art critic on The Listener (1946–51). By 1954 he was totally blind. Among the books of his later years was the autobiographical Rude Assignment (1950), which followed his earlier autobiography Blasting and Bombardiering (1937).

Subjects: Literature — Art.

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Works by Wyndham Lewis

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