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Praxitella and Lady Reading: Wyndham Lewis's portraits of Iris Barry

Wednesday 23rd March 2016


Percy Wyndham Lewis 'A Lady Reading' (1921). Bought with the aid of a grant from Leeds Art Fund, 2015.

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Praxitella is one of the most striking paintings in the Gallery’s collection. Wyndham Lewis painted it in 1921, using Iris Barry as the model. At the time they were lovers, and Lewis produced many images of her, some stylised like the painting, others much more naturalistic. With support from LAF the Gallery has recently acquired another Lewis work featuring Iris Barry, a coloured drawing of her reading, also produced in 1921. Barry became famous in her own right as a film critic and founder of the film archive at MOMA in New York, but for three years after Lewis’s return from the First World War, she was (as well as the mother of his children) his muse. Their relationship was stormy, and both were spectacularly bad parents, but Barry later said that Lewis was the most interesting man she had ever known.

Paul Edwards will discuss their relationship and its importance in Lewis’s art. Lewis exhibited both the painting and the drawing in his 1921 exhibition, ‘Tyros and Portraits’, held at the Leicester Galleries immediately after the Picasso exhibition. Disillusioned with the ‘empty geometry’ of the Vorticist style, Lewis wanted to create a modern ‘English’ version of classicism in the robust tradition of Hogarth and Shakespeare. These depictions of Iris Barry are crucial to this aspiration.

Paul Edwards is the author of Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer, and has curated several exhibitions of Lewis’s paintings.

Please note change of venue for this lecture - now at Leeds Art Gallery NOT Henry Moore Institute