A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art

By Ian Chilvers | Go to book overview

W

Wadsworth, Edward (1889-1949). British painter, printmaker, draughtsman, and designer, born at Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, son of a wealthy industralist. He took up painting while he was studying engineering in Munich, 1906-7, and had his main training at the *Slade School, 1908-12, winning prizes for landscape and figure painting. In 1913 he worked for a short time at Roger Fry's *Omega Workshops, but he left with Wyndham* Lewis and joined the *Vorticist group (he was a good linguist and published translations from * Kandinsky writings in the first number of Blast, 1914). At this time his work included completely abstract pictures such as the stridently geometrical Abstract Composition (Tate Gallery, London, 1915). This is close in style to Lewis's work of the same date, but there was a great difference in personality between the two men, as Ezra *Pound observed: 'Mr Lewis is restless, turbulent, intelligent, bound to make himself felt. If he had not been a vorticist painter he would have been a vorticist something else . . . If, on the other hand, Mr Wadsworth had not been a vorticist painter he would have been some other kind of painter . . . I cannot recall any painting of Mr Wadsworth's where he seems to be angry. There is a delight in mechanical beauty, a delight in the beauty of ships, or of crocuses, or a delight in pure form. He liked this, that or the other, and so he sat down to paint it' ( "'Edward Wadsworth, Vorticist'", The Egoist, 15 August 1914). Many other critics echoed Pound's belief that Wadsworth was a born painter, for throughout his career his highly finished craftsmanship won admiration even from those who were not usually sympathetic to avant-garde art.

In the First World War Wadsworth served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an intelligence officer in the Mediterranean, then worked on designing dazzle camouflage for ships, turning his harsh Vorticist style to practical use. This experience provided the subject for one of his best-known paintings, the huge Dazzle-Ships in Drydock at Liverpool (NG, Ottawa, 1919). The lucidity and precision seen in this work were enhanced when Wadsworth switched from oil painting to tempera in about 1922. At the same time his style changed, as he abandoned *Cubist leanings for a more naturalistic idiom. He had a passion for the sea and often painted maritime subjects, developing a distinctive type of highly composed marine still-life, typically with a *Surrealistic flavour brought about by oddities of scale and juxtaposition and the hypnotic clarity of the lighting ( Satellitium, Castle Museum, Nottingham, 1932). In the 1920s and 1930s he was among the most European in spirit of British artists. He travelled widely on the Continent and in 1933 contributed to the Paris journal * Abstraction- Création. In the same year he was a founder member of *Unit One. Around this time he again painted abstracts (influenced by * Arp), but he reverted to his more naturalistic style in 1934. In the later 1930s he had several commissions for murals, notably two panels for the liner Queen Mary in 1938 (these were so large that he painted them in the parish hall at Maresfield, Sussex, the village where he had settled in 1928, as this was the only building in the neighbourhood that could accommodate them).

Wadsworth was an impressive graphic artist as well as a painter. In this field he is best known for his vigorous, angular wood engravings of ships and machinery, which played a part in the revival of the woodcut after the First World War. The drawings that he published in The Black Country ( 1920, introduction by Arnold Bennett) are comparably bold, but his copper engravings for his other collection in book form, Sailing Ships and Barges of the Western Adriatic and the Mediterranean ( 1926), are delicately executed. For an

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A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction vii
  • Abbreviations xiv
  • A 1
  • B 46
  • C 106
  • D 154
  • E 189
  • F 204
  • G 228
  • H 264
  • I 293
  • J 299
  • K 308
  • L 332
  • M 360
  • N 426
  • O 450
  • P 461
  • Q 502
  • R 503
  • S 540
  • T 605
  • U 626
  • V 631
  • W 646
  • X 663
  • Y 665
  • Z 667
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