By Rosenthal, Tom
The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
We should raise at least two cheers for the Estorick Collection - London's specialist museum of modern Italian art - in mounting the first exhibition on Vorticism in these islands for many years. If Futurism was essentially Italian, Expressionism fundamentally German, Cubism if not wholly French then certainly Paris-centred, Vorticism - the art movement which burnt short and bright in the years 1910-15 - can lay claim to being almost wholly British. One says almost because its demonic leader, Wyndham Lewis, was born in Canada, the man who gave the movement its title, Ezra Pound, was American and much of the movement's early support, since it was literary as well as visually artistic, came from T S Eliot.
Wyndham Lewis had a talent for dalliance and a genius for savage break- ups. He quarrelled fiercely with Roger Fry, the chief exponent of Post- Impressionism and a pillar of Bloomsbury. He parted, to say the least, brusquely with the leader of the Futurists, F T Marinetti, whom he and other Vorticists had welcomed joyously to London (Vorticism was, to a considerable extent, an offshoot of Futurism - hence its relevance to the Estorick Collection). For Lewis, Marinetti was "Man of the Week" in May 1914 but, within a month, what Lewis saw as Marinetti's unwarrantable assumption that Lewis's Rebel Art Centre was simply the UK outpost of Italian Futurism, caused a fatal rupture between them.
This is, to some extent, encapsulated by Pound's naming of the group and movement. The Vortex, at least partly conflated with the eye of a storm, was originally intended as a description of London's immediately pre-war, heady cultural and intellectual scene. Pound wrote that: "The Vortex is the point of maximum energy... Futurism is the disgorging spray of a vortex with no drive behind it, DISPERSAL."
Vorticism, with its fierce adherents melded together by an even fiercer Lewis, egged on by the already eccentric Pound, must have seemed like a major force in British art and a list of the key players still rings impressively almost a century later. Among the writers, apart from Eliot and Pound, there was the philosopher and journalist T E Hulme. Among the sculptors were Jacob Epstein, whose Rock Drill is one of the icons of the movement, Henri Gaudier- Brzeska, and Frank Dobson. The great, and innovative, photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn was also a participant, with his attempt at an abstract form of photography which he called Vortography. In addition to Lewis - who was, if anything, even more influential as writer and polemicist - the painters included Edward Wadsworth and William Roberts, who celebrated the movement in a wonderful group portrait called Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists at the Tour Eiffel, the Soho restaurant that subsequently became The White Tower and which closed its doors only in the 1990s.
Even the ex-Futurist and superb war artist C R W Nevinson exhibited with them. Others taking part included Jessica Dismorr, David Bomberg, Helen Saunders, Stanley Cursiter and Jacob Kramer so that, all in all, they constituted a tremendous spearhead in avant- garde art between 1910 and 1920 despite, or perhaps because of, the First World War. …