Inspired by Cubism and Futurism, in 1914 a group of avant-garde artists sought to disrupt the sentimental British art scene with bold, geometric lines reflecting the frenzy and dynamism of the post-industrial age. They called the movement Vorticism and in their magazine, BLAST, they explained the significance of the name:
“You think at once of a whirlpool. 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.” Wyndham Lewis, artist and founder of the movement
Their ideas were not only shared by painters, but also by sculptors, designers and poets alike. Remembering the effervescence of those times, almost five decades later British artist William Roberts reconstructed from memory a momentous reunion of the Vorticists, dining and sipping champagne at a French restaurant in London, celebrating their first issue of BLAST.
The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915 depicts some of the leading figures of the movement, including Wyndham Lewis, at the center of the table, artist Frederick Etchells holding the BLAST magazine, and American poet Ezra Pound sitting cross-legged on a chair to the left. Roberts even included a self-portrait, showing himself seated to the right of Lewis.
There is something to be said about the symbolic placement at the table, with Lewis demanding all the attention as the leader and founder of the movement. The only two female artists of the group, Jessica Dismorr and Helen Saunders, have just walked through the door and have no seats available, reflecting their peripheral influence.
The owner of the restaurant, Rudolph Stulik, was a friendly face to the artistic elite. In the painting he is shown bringing the dessert, while Joe the waiter is serving champagne. Indeed, carried by nostalgia, Roberts reminisced fondly in a 1957 piece for The Listener about the evenings spent enjoying French cuisine and wine, noting that the owners of the restaurants they frequented were just as much part of their group:
“In my memory la cuisine Française and Vorticism are indissolubly linked. Both Signor Rossi of the Etoile, and M. Rudolph Stulik of the Tour Eiffel should rank in the records of Vorticism as honorary members of the ‘Group’.”
All the people captured in the artwork look cartoonish, some unattractively so, with their large, bulging eyes, short necks and unnatural complexions. But they also appear cohesive and united, at a moment in time when they were hopeful that their movement would have an everlasting impact. The Vorticists were sadly mistaken – the group disbanded before the end of World War I.