Percy Wyndham Lewis was born on his father’s sailboat off Nova Scotia in 1882. His parents made an improbable couple, his father an independently wealthy American from upstate New York, his mother an Englishwoman who returned to England with her child after the marriage collapsed when Lewis was ten years old. Lewis then attended a number of schools, including Rugby, without distinction and finally went to the Slade School of Art in London from 1898 to 1901. After that came an extended period of wandering through Europe, particularly Germany, France, and Spain. The ostensible purpose of these travels was to paint and to study painting, but Lewis also saw himself as a writer, and his first appearance in print, in The English Review in 1909, was with a sketch drawn from his travels.
By 1912, the family finances could no longer support such travels, and Lewis returned to London to make his mark in the art world. He founded an art movement, vorticism, published a magazine, Blast, which caused a sensation though it only appeared twice, and created a distinctively vorticist style in both painting and writing. By 1914, the year of the vorticist movement, it looked as if he were on the verge of a brilliant career, but World War I interrupted these plans. Vorticism came to an end in the war, and Lewis fought in the trenches in France as a bombardier.
Keeping a much lower profile after the war, Lewis, though he continued to paint, saw...
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