Among the innovative avant-garde movements that rose in popularity in the first decades of the twentieth century, Futurism was always seen as the major force in the bunch. Even retrospectively, Futurism and Cubism take up most of space in representing the dynamism that the machine had brought to the human experience. Yet Vorticism, despite being so short-lived, had a fundamental role in the British and European arts and represented a milder, more introspective, less shocking approach to expressing life in the early 1910s. Futurism was so ‘fast‘, it ended up being illusionary. And it praised technology in such way that it could never be seen as a ‘new approach‘: Vorticism came to life as a response to these claimed faults and proposed a truthful representation of reality and a new artistic approach. When Wyndham Lewis and a few more artists left Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, Vorticism was about to find its own manifesto.
The first issue of Blast was released in July 1914 and only two women participated in the movement’s first steps. Jessica Dismorr and Helen Saunders both signed the manifesto and were actively participating in the creative process, but were always seen as marginal figures, even by the group’s own members. There is no doubt that Vorticism’s lead figures were Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and Sir Jacob Epstein, for different reasons and different artistic endeavours; one can safely assume that both Dismorr and Saunders’s roles were peripheral and any sort of retrospective revaluation is now a hard and complex process because many of the movement’s associated painters have their works lost.
In terms of artistic production and meaning behind the works, both Dismorr and Saunders appear to have changed their style slightly prior or shortly after meeting Wyndham Lewis. Were they then sharing a common passion or just following the lead? For instance, many of Dismorr’s earlier works feature an Expressionist trait and nothing seems as abstract as it does in the works she produced in the Vorticist years. Both artists seemed to be infatuated with Lewis and his charisma, albeit in different ways, but maintained a firm position towards how they felt, which perhaps validates the term “feminist” in this discussion: Saunder never got married because she thought being a wife would alter her creative process, whereas Dismorr only had platonic feelings for Lewis, preferring the company of her own gender. But in regards to their approach to Vorticism, is it possible that their first approach with Lewis ended up determining their place in the Vorticist group?
There are not concrete elements for us to think of Vorticism as a movement that implemented Feminism within itself, as women Vorticists were not a driving force but were merely included in the activity of this group. The outbreak of the First World War, along with the aforementioned loss of paintings and the artists’ works, leaves us with a complex and confused puzzle. It is hard to determine how the group would have evolved, if the female voice would have grown from within, acquiring more spaces of development. Certainly today, with a spirit of retrospective analysis, a first major issue to address would be that of rebuilding the entire dynamics of the group and then, with a delicate process of research, establishing what the female Vorticists can pass onto the new generations of painters and art lovers.