Wyndham Lewis’s painting Kermesse (1912) exemplifies the patterns of lines, arcs, and other geometric shapes of Vorticist art, which sometimes seem purely non-representational but often suggest the rapid movement of bodies or machines. The painting, named after a Flemish peasant dance, represents a radically mechanized alternative to Matisse’s graceful, flowing paintings of dancers. The huge original painting, which adorned the walls of an avant-garde nightclub, has been lost, but Lewis’s study with the same title gives a sense of the larger work. Critics thought that the painting, with its inhuman dancers and abstract lines representing movement, resembled “some terrible battle of extermination between murderous insects,” the attack of “some gigantic fantastic insects descended upon earth from some other planet,” or “a rather disunited family of Mr. Wells’ Martians,” a possible illustration for The War of the Worlds.[1]

  1. ↑ Quoted in Lisa Tickner, Modern Life and Modern Subjects: British Art in the Early Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale UP, 200), pp. 104, 262, n.97, and Christopher Butler, Early Modernism (Oxford UP, 1996), p. 222.

This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 85-86.