Exhibition Archive

'The bone beneath the pulp’: Drawings by Wyndham Lewis

14 October 2004 to 13 February 2005


The bone beneath the pulp: Drawings by Wyndham Lewis featured over 50 works by one of the key avant-garde figures in British art of the early 20th century. The exhibition presented drawings spanning Lewis’s career, on long-term loan from the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust and its Trustees.

Described by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot as 'the most fascinating personality of our time’, Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), artist, novelist and cultural critic, is renowned as the leader of the Vorticist group in the years immediately before the First World War. The abstract works he produced early in his career were distinctive for their formal experimentation and acerbic wit, yet his diverse and experimental oeuvre also encompassed figure studies, portraits and works of imaginative fantasy. Beginning in the early 1900s, the exhibition traced his drawing from youthful figure studies, heavily indebted to Augustus John and the Slade School tradition, to the portraits of the 1920s and 30s, outstanding in the clarity of their line, through to the surreal abstractions and dreamscapes of the 1930s and 40s. Charting his move to Canada and the United States during the Second World War and his subsequent return to London in 1945, the exhibition ended with one of Lewis’s last works, Red figures carrying babies and visiting graves,completed in 1951 just before he lost his sight.

This was the first exhibition to consider Lewis’s drawing as a distinct contribution to his art, despite the importance he attributed to the role of draughtsmanship in his own and other artists’ work. In later years, Lewis would recall the firm foundation he had gained in the principles of draughtsmanship under the direction of Henry Tonks at the Slade, where his drawing had won him a scholarship in 1898. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of first-class drawing, Lewis wrote in a short polemical essay in the late 1930s entitled 'The Role of Line in Art’ that the line in drawing was nothing less than 'the bone beneath the pulp’. 'It is more difficult upon a piece of white paper,’ he wrote, 'your means of expression reduced to a few lines, to deceive the expert spectator than it is with a lot of oil paint upon a canvas.’

Exhibition view

Exhibition view
Installation views.

Startling in their range and visual dexterity, the drawings of Wyndham Lewis show the artist as a highly experimental and accomplished draughtsman, as well as a distinctive colourist. This exhibition, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, promises to extend our understanding of Lewis’s oeuvre, allowing a more accurate assessment of his unique contribution to British modernism.

This exhibition travelled to the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal where it was shown from 7 March to 4 June 2005

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), Figure (Spanish woman) 1912
Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), Figure (Spanish woman) 1912 © Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (G. and V. Lane
Collection)