Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957)
Portrait of Edward Wadsworth, 1920

Graphite, black pencil and watercolour wash on watercolour paper

Portrait of Edward Wadsworth - Percy Wyndham Lewis

Portraits: What you lookin' at?

Part I. The Great and The Good

In addition to painting, Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) was a literary critic, novelist and political polemicist, writing over thirty publications. He co-founded the ‘Vorticist’ movement, which drew from Futurist and Cubist formalism, and aimed to embrace dynamism, the machine age and all things modern in art. Through the employment of bold lines and colour, the Vorticist artists strived to catch movement in an image.

Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949), the son of a wealthy Yorkshire industrialist and several years Lewis’ junior, was one of the artists that would follow Lewis when he split from Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops in 1914 to pursue independent ventures, such as founding his own journal BLAST (1914-1915).

Here Lewis uses a single flesh-tone watercolour, applied to the hands and face of the sitter, but the majority of the work remains a bold composition in graphite. The body is composed from a visual lexicon of fragmented elliptical lines, which build in intensity around the bend in the body. Although much of the form is left suggested, the use of tone and line create a sense of the figure moving in and out of three-dimensionality.

 

The sitter’s facial features have as sculptural aesthetic to them – with flattened planes all but overwhelmed by the enigmatic brow. His eyes are non-defined and are cast in shadow – much like those of an unfinished sculpture. This emotionally distances the sitter, blinding him from the scrutiny of the viewer.

Small details have been included: a cufflink on his left sleeve; a chequered waistcoat; a dark tie; adding character, whilst showcasing Lewis’ command of abstracted draftsmanship married with the perceptive characterisations of a satirist. The carefully constructed areas of incomplete form, which prove particularly obscured around Wadsworth’s crossed legs, are in-keeping with one of Vorticism’s central tenants: the depiction of velocity – capturing a moment of movement.