WyndhamLewis - EXHIBITION Wyndham Lewis Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London (to19thOctober),consistsofsomefiftyoil…

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<ul><li><p>EXH I B I T I ON REV I EW S</p><p>the burlington magazine cl september 2008 625</p><p>subject-matter he seldom strayed beyond theconfines of his own apartment or, at most, theCopenhagen hinterland and he was dubbedby his friends the secret king of Danish paint-ing both he and his work were in factwell-travelled: he exhibited regularly in Berlin,Munich, Paris and London, represented hiscountry at the Venice Biennale in 1903, andjourneyed extensively throughout Europe.Sadly, in some ways the exhibition falls prey tothe tendency of monographic shows to presentthe artist in isolation from his times and con-temporaries. Although much is made in boththe exhibition and the catalogue of his affinitieswith Whistler whose acquaintance andapprobation he repeatedly sought, althoughthe two men never met and of the fact thatduring his lifetime, his work found moreadmirers abroad than at home, his connectionswith other foreign contemporary artists andmovements could have been givenmore atten-tion. A major case in point is his relationshipwith the Belgian Symbolists, particularlyXavier Mellery, whose concern with thesecret life of things, monochrome palette andbrooding silences display a strong kinship withHammershi; indeed, the sinister Coin collector(no.42), one of his few nocturnal scenes, bearsstriking similarities to Mellerys work, especiallyin its stark, glacial rendering of candlelightand shadows. These links are adumbrated inFelix Krmers catalogue essay, but they meritfurther exploration. Hammershi may havedismissed Bonnards work as complete rub-bish (ironically, considering the many pointsof commonality in the two artists uvres), butthere is much to suggest that he was keenlyalive to the artistic currents of his time, andwe can only hope that this avenue will beinvestigated more thoroughly in the future.</p><p>1 Catalogue: Vilhelm Hammershi: The Poetry of Silence.By Felix Krmer, Naoki Sato and Anne-BirgitteFonsmark. 160 pp. incl. 140 col. ills. (Thames &amp;Hudson, London, 2008), 35 (HB). ISBN 9781905711284; 19.95 (PB). ISBN 9781905711291.</p><p>Wyndham LewisLondon</p><p>by ANDREW CAUSEY</p><p>THE EXHIBITION Wyndham Lewis Portraits atthe National Portrait Gallery, London(to 19th October), consists of some fifty oilpaintings, watercolours and drawings madebetween 1911 and 1949. Lewiss legacy hasnot been well-nurtured through exhibitions.Since his death in 1957, there has been onlyone full retrospective, organised by Man-chester City Galleries in 1980, circulated, butnot shown in London. The Imperial WarMuseums 1992 exhibition Wyndham Lewis.Art and War was memorable in showingthe extent of his interest in martial themes ingeneral alongside the products of his service inthe First World War. The Courtauld Insti-tutes small show, The Bone beneath the Pulp.Drawings by Wyndham Lewis, held in 2004, shednew light on some of the small late water-colours whose themes are hard to decipher inreproduction (and not always easy in front ofthe works themselves). The 1993 show TheTalented Intruder. Wyndham Lewis in Canada,19391945 greatly extended knowledge ofLewiss career during the Second World War.There are several reasons why Lewis has not</p><p>been much exhibited. Among them are hisambivalent attitude to Modernism after theFirst World War, the widely held but erron-eous belief that his painting was only a sidelineto his writing, and the fact that his work doesnot have the obvious overall coherence thatsome think necessary for a successful exhi-bition. Also the fact that his most interestingworks are often watercolours, tend to be small,</p><p>and reflect Lewiss varied reading and vividimagination without, in many cases, offeringentry points to understanding, even for sea-soned gallery-goers, is surely a factor. Lewiswas in every sense difficult. Having decidedearly on that the general public was not worthyof his art, he steamed ahead on his own.Lewiss portraits are different, more acces-</p><p>sible but nonetheless enigmatic. This show isonly one part of Lewiss uvre but neverthelessstimulating and worthwhile. Many portraitsare of fellow members of the contemporaryintellectual elite T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound,James Joyce, Edith Sitwell, Stephen Spender,Naomi Mitchison and others are of womenwith whom he had liaisons Iris Barry, themother of two children by Lewis, and NancyCunard. There is a group of elegant portraitsof his beautiful wife, Anne (Froanna), whichshow more human feeling than most but stillhave Lewiss characteristic detachment. Lewishad little conventional domestic life andhis portraits, whether of public figures or ofwomen to whom he was close, are objective.In the background there are sometimes booksand pictures, representing the shared interestsof Lewis and his sitters, but there is not mucheye contact to suggest that these people arelike us, the viewers, or have mundane con-cerns. Eliot, in the historic 1938 portrait thatwas rejected by the Royal Academy of Arts(p.69; Fig.54), gazes into the distance beyondus, the 1939 Pound portrait from the Tate(p.63) seems to show the poet asleep, whileseveral sitters have a downward melancholicgaze that seems to point inwards, away fromthe world at large. Occasionally, as withFroanna (Portrait of the artists wife) (1937; p.95;Fig.55) a tea set is allowed in as an exceptionalintrusion of the every day but, even so, isplainly unused and without human reference.Lewis liked to present himself as inhuman,and maybe in personal relationships he was.But the masks he adopted and attributed toothers were connected with Eliots concernfor objectivity and the suppression of person-ality. The 1938 Eliot portrait tells us not justwhat Eliot looked like but demonstratesLewiss respect for Eliots creative principle.Sitters faces in Lewiss portraits are like</p><p>masks in the way individual expression or theregistering of particular moments in time areeliminated. The paradox is that these masksdo resemble the sitters. Why mask the face ifyou want to represent it? It was Lewiss wayof acknowledging his sitters individualitywhile keeping his distance and recordingthe typical rather than passing features. ThePortrait of the artist as the painter Raphael (1921;p.14; Fig.56) has the distinctive face of Lewishimself and is at the same time conceptualisedas a Byzantine icon, with austere golden-brown face and small mouth with reddenedlips. As for Raphael, he might be thoughtto stand at the cusp of the modern worldemerging from Byzantinism, or it may justhave been that, in the atmosphere of the post-War rappel lordre, coinciding with the fourthcentenary in 1920 of the Renaissance mastersdeath, his work was rousing great interest.</p><p>53. Sunbeams or sunshine. Dust motes dancing in thesunbeams, by Vilhelm Hammershi. 1900. Canvas,70 by 59 cm. (Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen; exh.Royal Academy of Arts, London).</p><p>54. T.S. Eliot, by Wyndham Lewis. 1938. 133.3by 85.1 cm. (Durban Municipal Art Gallery; exh.National Portrait Gallery, London).</p></li><li><p>EXH I B I T I ON REV I EW S</p><p>626 september 2008 cl the burlington magazine</p><p>The idea of the mask extends to some ofLewiss drawings made immediately after theFirst World War among the most engagingworks in the show. There seem to be half-hidden references to African artefacts in thehead of Iris Barry in the drawing LIngnue(1919; Manchester City Galleries; p.35), andmore clearly in another portrait of Barry,Study for painting (Seated lady) (1920; Manches-ter City Galleries; p.37). These referencesagain play off the portraits essential respon-sibility to representation against Lewiss sensethat even a portrait, with all its particularities,is part of an established and continuing tradi-tion. A portrait is no less an aesthetic expres-sion because it also has a duty to represent.A question mark stands over the decision</p><p>to omit all of Lewiss work from the SecondWorld War with the exception of the finelife-size portrait of Samuel Capen, Chancellorof the State University of New York at Buf-falo, in his robes (State University of New</p><p>York at Buffalo; 1939; p.102). Lewis, who haddual British-Canadian nationality, spent theSecond World War in North America, wherehe suffered poverty exceptional even for himand had more or less to tout for portrait com-missions. It may be that the results were belowhis usual standard, but it is difficult to know asmost of us have never seen them. As theNational Portrait Gallerys brief is documen-tary as well as aesthetic, this might have beenthe right opportunity to show more of them.The selection and catalogue are in the</p><p>hands of the leading Lewis scholar, PaulEdwards, with the help of RichardHumphreys, another long-standing pioneer ofLewis studies.1 The catalogue reproduces allexhibited works in colour, but the pictures arenot numbered, and the authors have beenallocated only a modest space in what is quitea substantial publication. One key painting,Praxitella (192021; Leeds City Art Gallery) isreproduced in full-page colour without a notethat it is not in the exhibition. The catalogueslayout and typography are based on LewissVorticist publication Blast (191415), prettymuch the only period of Lewiss work thatthe exhibition does not represent.</p><p>1 Catalogue:Wyndham Lewis Portraits. By Paul Edwardswith Richard Humphreys. 112 pp. incl. 60 col. ills.(National Portrait Gallery, London, 2008), 15. ISBN9781855143951.</p><p>American prints London</p><p>by MARTIN HOPKINSON</p><p>ONE OF THE most remarkable transformationsof a collection of twentieth-century art inEurope in the last thirty years has been that ofthe Department of Prints and Drawings in theBritish Museum. Driven by Antony Griffiths,ably assisted by his colleagues, the Museumsmodern print collection has become out-standing, both through its purchases andthrough the generosity of its many perspica-cious donors. In 1979 the Museum staged thefirst of a series of major scholarly exhibitionsrevealing its acquisitions of twentieth-centuryAmerican prints, an area of art virtuallyunknown to British gallery-goers. Only twosurvey shows of significance preceded thisexhibition, at the Victoria and Albert Mus-eum in 1929 and at the Royal Society ofPainterEtchers and Engravers in 1954,1 bothof which have long been forgotten. Nor isit at all well known that, thanks to the gen-erosity of the Glasgow lawyer and universityadministrator James A. McCallum, actingwith the advice of A.M. Hind of the BritishMuseum, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Univer-sity of Glasgow, had from 1948 a small butwell-chosen collection of American prints ofthe first half of the twentieth century, par-ticularly notable for its group of intaglioprints executed at Atelier 17 in New York.Over 220 prints dating between 1900 and</p><p>1960 are now in that collection. A thirdimportant group of American prints acquiredby a museum is worth mentioning here.Perhaps triggered by the example of theBritish Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge, has acquired 250 works by Amer-ican masters with the help of Reba and DaveWilliams, its Honorary Keepers of Prints,who have also been among the individualswho have supported the British Museumsacquisitions over the last twenty-five years.Since 1979 the Department of Prints and</p><p>drawings at the British Museum has beenvery active in expanding its American printcollection, so much so that The AmericanScene. Prints from Hopper to Pollock (to 7thSeptember)2 is very different from the earliershow. Less than a quarter of the workspresented here were in that exhibition, whichhad begun with the work of Whistler andended in the 1970s. What is more, the richesof the London collection would have permit-ted three or four different selections of prints,which means that the curator of the exhi-bition, Stephen Coppel, is presenting verymuch his own view of the most interestingworks now owned by the British Museum.As the prints of the Ashcan School, Bellows,Hopper, Martin Lewis and the Americanurban scene were so well covered in the 1979show, the comments below concentratelargely on the works not previously shown.To this reviewer the exhibition seems</p><p>to stress the American-ness of Americanprintmaking and downplays the relationshipsbetween American and European art, animpression largely due to the considerablenumber of Regionalist works in the show. Itis surprising how few abstract works from theperiod before 1945 are to be seen. Early inter-est in Cubism and Constructivism is perhapsunderplayed, although the impact of AlbertGleizes and Juan Gris is well displayed in the</p><p>55. Froanna (Portrait of the artists wife), by WyndhamLewis. 1937. Canvas, 76 by 63.5 cm. (Glasgow CityCouncil; exh. National Portrait Gallery, London).</p><p>56. Portrait of the artist as the painter Raphael, byWyndham Lewis. 1921. Canvas, 76.3 by 68.6 cm.(Manchester City Galleries; exh. National PortraitGallery, London).</p><p>57. Hell Gate Bridge, by Werner Drewes. 1931. Wood-cut, 40.5 by 29.3 cm. (British Museum, London).</p></li></ul>


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