One hundred and twenty two

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Nancy Cunard

1922 by Wyndham Lewis
British Council

Nancy Cunard was a poet writer as well as a member of the civil rights movement; she and Lewis had a love affair in the year of this drawing. Her power, her stance and presence have been captured perfectly in this portrayal; she stands tall, stoic, a pillar of strength, as she surveys the world from a window. Her figure is boyishly slender, and the effortless style of the low slung waist and cap ties her unmistakably to the distinct twenties fashion. Though this awareness of fashion likens this image with those of George Barbier and the like (fashion illustrations), this effect would have hardly been Lewis’s intention. His portraits often seem to possess an element of effortless glamour on the part of their sitter, and a portrayal of such a contemporary figure of the women’s movement could not be seen as anything less than chic. Lewis has captured the strength of self-awareness, perhaps the slight vanity, but above all the self-sufficiency that surrounds this confident woman. Stylistically the drawing is also important, drawing on the accuracy of angles in Lewis’s ever-evolving articulation of simple shapes that allow for such precision of depiction. The restraint of line is beautiful in its simplicity, yet lacks no detail in its ability to evoke personality. The effect is then carried by the subtlety of colour; barely there, soft pastels echo the understated drawing. They are awash of colour, dilutions hinting at a reality that does not need to be garishly concrete. Lewis’s interpretation of the face is characteristically unexpressive; yet, despite the abrupt nature of depiction, the gentle colouring allows the drawing a dreaminess it would lack otherwise, a sentimentality perhaps on the part of the painter. Either way it allows the image to breath, perhaps reflecting the emotion of those involved.

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