Blasting The Future - The Vorticists At The Whitworth

| 10 June 2004
Shows a painting entitled Rain on Princes Street. It is in the Vorticist style and depicts a number of umbrellas bunched together with faces interspersed between them. In the background there are street lamps and buildings and the appearance of driving rain.

Photo: Rain on Princes Street, 1913 by Stanley Cursiter. Courtesy the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Blasting the Future! Vorticism in Britain 1910-1920 is on show at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery until July 25 and traces the history of a short-lived but vibrant and influential art movement.

Setting out their intentions in a defiant manifesto printed in the journal Blast, the Vorticists saw themselves as an audacious new movement in British art and an alternative to Cubism, Expressionism and the Italian Futurists.

They aimed to liberate Britain from the legacy of the past and obliterate all traces of the Victorian era, placing the machine age at the centre of their work.

The exhibition features some 100 works both by artists closely associated with Vorticism such as Wyndham Lewis, Edward Wadsworth and William Roberts, and lesser-known artists, such as Helen Saunders, Stanley Cursiter and Frank Dobson.

Shows a painting entitled Vorticist Composition. A jagged, seemingly random pattern breaks up vast swathes of khaki and a light purple colour.

Photo: Vorticist Composition, Black and Khaki c. 1915 by Helen Saunders. Courtesy the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Together these offer a comprehensive picture of the movement, its origins and its wider influence in the most comprehensive survey of Vorticism since the Hayward Gallery's 1974 exhibition.

Vorticism was founded in 1914 by Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) and members of the Rebel Art Centre that he had established earlier that year as a platform for the art and ideas of his circle.

The Vorticist manifesto appeared in the first number of the movement’s official literary mouthpiece, Blast, in June 1914. The first, and only, true Vorticist exhibition took place the following year at the Doré Gallery in London.

Shows a print entitled Liverpool Shipping. It depicts a vast ship in dry dock, which is being painted by a team of people. In the background there are houses, factories and gasometers.

Photo: Liverpool Shipping, 1918 by Edward Wadsworth. Courtesy the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Their work is typified by its exploration of the dehumanising and impersonal side of industrialisation: dynamic movement is captured in stark contrasts and partial abstraction.

Inevitably the Great War (1914-1918) had a huge impact on the Vorticists’ lives. Wyndham Lewis and William Roberts (1895-1980) enlisted in the Royal Artillery and, having endured life in the trenches, eventually became official war artists.

There are two works commissioned by the Ministry of Information on show in Manchester: Lewis’ Officers and Signallers and Gunners Turning Out for an SOS and Battery Action at Night by Roberts, both of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1919.

Wadsworth joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and in 1917 worked on designing camouflage for ships in Bristol and Liverpool.

Shows a painting entitled Reconstruction. It is in the Vortisist style and is comprised of various shaped bits of colour, seemingly arbitrarily arranged, but almost taking on the appearance of a collapsing building.

Photo: Reconstruction, 1919 - 20 by Cuthbert Hamilton. Courtesy the Whitworth Art Gallery.

He applied the principles of Vorticism to maritime camouflage in the form of the 'dazzle ship', and his 1918 woodcut Dazzle Ship in Dry Dock is now part of the Whitworth’s collection.

After the war Vorticism came to be repudiated by even its most ardent advocates and Wyndham Lewis’ attempt to resurrect it under the guise of Group X proved to be unsuccessful.

This exhibition offers the opportunity to re-evaluate an important movement in British Art and a chance to view rarely-seen works in context with those from the leading figures of the movement.

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