Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Lewis’s magisterial line

A pity, I feel, when a public gallery crowds out its walls with Victorian junk when it might fill them twice over with wonderful 20th century art that is never or rarely put on show. A good job, then, that a display of drawings from local schools at Wolverhampton Art Gallery (some excellent) gives a pretext to sprinkle in some gems from the vaults that would otherwise never see the light of day.

Including this modest but magisterial pen drawing by Wyndham Lewis, a portrait of Bernard Rowland done in 1921. (Click to enlarge.) I didn’t know that Wolverhampton even had this. The drawing is number 475 in Michel’s catalogue, and came from the Mayor Gallery, London. Lewis’s biographer Paul O’Keeffe mentions that Lewis, then homeless, stopped temporarily with Rowland, a friend, when he parted from Iris Barry in 1921, so this could have been done as a thank you gift and keepsake. Rowland may perhaps have been the fabric designer of that name, though that’s just a guess.


Lewis was at the peak of his graphic and observational powers at this period. Each arc here just sings with the confidence of its liberty, all conspiring to lead the eye to the exquisite construction of U’s and V’s forming the upper lip that provides a fulcrum to the image, and this despite (or because of) the prominent pentimento running down the nose and across the mouth, which somehow seems entirely right and necessary, echoing lines of cheek and jaw. And just look at the play-off between the eyes! I could go on.

Sorry about the reflections. I dare say I shouldn’t have taken a photo anyway.

5 responses to “Lewis’s magisterial line

  1. christina kraemer September 12, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Hello Richard,
    Your lovely description of the drawing was written in such a way that I read it several times. Sometimes I need an assist in order to appreciate what is before me. So I was brought up short by the last line. I think that your reflections are one of the reasons we subscribe to your post.
    Thanks from Chicago.

    Christina K.

  2. richardawarren September 12, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Ah, Christina, thanks for the kind words, but my mistake. I meant the reflections on the glass in the photo, which I thought were a bit intrusive … Apologies!

  3. Paul Edwards September 30, 2016 at 10:30 am

    There is another drawing of Bernard Rowland by Lewis in the collection of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust at the Courtauld Gallery. It is of the same date but in pencil, so is worth contrasting with the one in Wolverhampton. It shows an equal mastery and economy of means.

    • richardawarren September 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks! I missed that, but now I see that it’s reproduced in ‘The Bone beneath the Pulp’, the 2004 catalogue to the Courtauld show of Lewis drawings. Beautiful. And very different in some ways.

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