Wyndham Lewis, Percy (1882-1957), 'Self Portrait', Drawing, 1920

'Self Portrait', Drawing, 1920

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Signed lower right ‘Wyndham Lewis’ in ink.

Wyndham Lewis was the leading figure of the Vorticist movement before the war. However, like many of his contemporaries his experiences during the conflict lead him to a major reassessment of his work. For Lewis this entailed a return to figurative drawing. Between 1918 and 1922 he developed a distinctive graphic manner that he applied to a remarkable series of portrait and figure studies. He often chose friends from his cultural circle as sitters, including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Edward Wadsworth. He also, however, turned his attention on himself. The post-war period was one of intense self examination. For Lewis, a portrait of himself, in art as well as in life, was a calculated statement about how he wanted to appear to the outside world, as opposed to a revelation of his hidden inner self.


The importance of his self-portraits in this period is demonstrated by his decision to exhibit seven self-portraits and nothing else in the 1920 ‘Group X’ show at the Mansard Gallery. Then again at the ‘Tyros and Portraits’ exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries in 1921 he presented several self-portraits including the infamous ‘Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro’. William Rothenstein recalled that upon asking Lewis to sit for a portrait, he replied that ‘I am sitting for myself at present - in fact it is a permanent job, and I never sit for anybody else!’

This self-portrait, in three quarter view, smoking his signature pipe, demonstrates Wyndham Lewis’s virtuosic ability to use minimal line and rhythmic shape to great effect. The undulating curves of his jacket lapels are echoed in his hair and contrast sharply with the intensely angular almost abstract bow tie. As in several portraits of this period the eyes are merely shaded spaces, a clear rebuttal to the notion that the eyes are the heart of any portrait.
The previous owner, the diplomat Sir David Scott, was one of the most highly regarded of all twentieth century private British art collectors. Scott wrote of this portrait, ‘I like the uncompromising robustness of this drawing. There are not many lines in it but every line tells’.

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Paper Size 35.5 x 26.5 cm
Provenance Redfern Gallery, where purchased by Sir David Scott, 11 August 1949 for 16 guineas
Exhibited Redfern Gallery, London, ‘Wyndham Lewis’, 1949, cat. no. 42, entitled ‘Portrait of the Artist’ (1921).
Reference Michel, Walter, ‘Wyndham Lewis Paintings and Drawings’, Thames and Hudson, 1971, p. 374, no. 428; ‘Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott’, Sotheby’s, 2008, pp. 184-185

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