After the bullets, the brushes: how the First World War transformed art

Michael Prodger:

Nineteen-fourteen was not a propitious time to announce a new artistic movement. In July of that year, however, the first edition of the artistic-literary magazine Blast appeared, declaring the birth of vorticism. Once a great deal of flim-flam had been sifted through, what the movement amounted to was a repudiation of both Victorian values and Bloomsbury aesthetics, and instead an acclamation of modernity, the machine age and non-traditional representation.

Vorticism was largely the brainchild of the painter and critic Percy Wyndham Lewis, who was supported by the upper echelon of the British-based avant-garde, numbering, among others, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, CRW Nevinson, David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, William Roberts and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. “You think at once of a whirlpool,” wrote Wyndham Lewis. “At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated; and there at the point of concentration is the vorticist.”

Vorticism was simply the British wing of a Europe-wide movement, which held that art needed to be remade for the times. Italy had the futurists who, under the strutting Filippo Marinetti, worshipped violence, speed, the motorcar, the modern city and youth. France meanwhile had cubism, the invention of Picasso and Braque that fractured three-dimensional objects in order to reconstitute them on canvas, and Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual “anti-art”.