Wyndham Lewis

Painter and Writer

Paul Edwards

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Equally talented as a writer and painter, Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957) was one of the most innovative and controversial artistic figures of twentieth-century Britain, renowned as the driving force behind Vorticism, the avant-garde movement that flourished in London before the First World War. This book—the first critical overview of the visual, literary, and philosophical dimensions of Lewis’s works—is also the first study to consider them as an integrated whole.

Lewis the painter was an early pioneer of abstraction, and as a war artist he adopted the vocabulary of Vorticism to convey the grim struggle of the Western Front. For the rest of his career he moved at will between abstraction and representation in imaginative works, incisive life drawings, quasi-metaphysical history paintings, and portraits (most famously of the other “Men of 1914,” Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot). As a writer, Lewis produced abrasive satirical novels, short stories, and “theological fantasies” as well as powerful cultural and political analyses. Through detailed but accessible commentary Paul Edwards traces a coherent pattern in Lewis’s bafflingly diverse work and shows its centrality to a full understanding of Modernism. He also discusses Lewis’s Fascist sympathies in the 1930s, his dissociation from Fascism after 1937, his self-imposed exile in Canada during the Second World War, and the radical reevaluation of his life and intellectual commitments in his final novels.

Paul Edwards is a senior lecturer in English at Bath Spa University College.

“The fullest account to date on the life and work of this prolific artist/author. . . . For the social or art historian interested in the intellectual tensions affecting painting, the graphic arts, and art criticism in London from the years immediately before the Great War until Lewis’s death in the mid-1950s, this book offers an intelligent distillation.”—Anthony Lacy Gully, Albion

“[A] comprehensive study of Lewis’s entire oeuvre of visual art and writing. What stands out first of all is the appearance of this book: its stunning visual presence and size suggest prominence, and, at a time when Lewis criticism has emerged primarily in articles and in chapters of books surveying modernist cultures or genres, its scope is impressive and even daring. . . . [Edwards’s] book promises to be an invaluable touchstone for studies on Lewis’s writing and painting. Yet, more importantly, it should also serve as a key component in studies of modernism for newcomers and experts alike, because Edwards offers a compelling and persuasive account of why Lewis’s work, despite its flaws and miscalculations, must once again be considered ‘central to an understanding of the culture of the twentieth century.’”—Thaine Stearns, Modernism

“This vast and well-illustrated volume is the first to fully blend discussion of Lewis’s writing and his art."—Publishers Weekly

“Thorough, judiciously argued and even-handed throughout, Edwards’ account of Lewis’ work and its vexed, edgy contribution to modernism is unlikely to be surpassed for many a year to come. . . . Lewis emerges from this book as a figure whose importance to our understanding of the history of modernism cannot be overstated.”—Textual Practice

“In his critical survey of all the work of Lewis, Paul Edwards gives a fair-minded account of the Fry-Lewis schism, and calls for an upward correction in Lewis’s reputation as an artist.”—Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review

“Of all the great modernists, Wyndham Lewis remains the most controversial, the least read and arguably the most gifted. . . . This sumptuous album reveals the full range of Lewis the visual creator, from the Vorticist swirls to the neo-realist society pictures of his later career. . . . Edwards comments authoritatively on virtually everything produced by this complex artist, instantly making this handsome volume a standard guide and resource.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"This is a beautiful book. Lewis’ paintings and drawings are reproduced magnificently, often in color. Mr. Edwards is a thorough scholar, reveling in detail and he has read everything Lewis ever wrote and viewed all his pictures." —Stephen Goode, Washington Times

Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book for 2000
ISBN: 9780300082098
Publication Date: July 11, 2000
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
592 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
162 b/w + 179 color illus.