Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson

Born in 1889, in London, the son of H. W. Nevinson, the war correspondent and author, Nevinson’s formative years as a student were spent at the Slade School of Art (1909–12), and at the Academie Julian (1912-13). He studied under Henry Tonks at the Slade, but when he left, befriended Wyndham Lewis, and the leader of the Italian Futurists, Filippo Marinetti. The Futurist Exhibition of March 1912, held at the Sackville Gallery, London, proved decisive for his development. However, his attachment to the Futurists caused Nevinson to drive Lewis and his other friends away, when he attached their names to the Futurist movement. Lewis then subsequently formed the Vorticists.

Futurism had, by this point, become a byword in London for anything new and outrageous, and the British avant-garde grew resentful of its influence. However,Nevinson continued to make Futurist paintings of machine-age London, celebrating the dynamism of the underground Tube trains, the traffic in the Strand, and a Bank Holiday crowd on Hampstead Heath.

At the advent of World War I, Nevinson joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, an experience that profoundly affected him. After he was sent home due to ill health, Nevinson volunteered for home service with the Royal Army Medical Corps. In order to depict his experience of war, he combined Futurist and Cubist aesthetics. Bleak, outspoken and often angry, his paintings of 1915–16 are among the masterpieces of his career, bravely opposing the prevailing jingoistic tendency. In 1917, he was appointed an official war artist, by which time he had moved away from Modernist styles, and towards realism. By 1919 he adopted traditional vision, and painted lively interpretations of New York. Nevinson was at his best when dealing with the dynamism and vertiginous scale of big-city life. In later years he concentrated more on pastoral scenes and flower pieces, where a gentler mood prevailed.

Bibliography
P. G. Konody: Modern War Paintings by C. R. W. Nevinson (London, 1917)
O. Sitwell: C. R. W. Nevinson (London, 1925)
R. Cork: Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 2 vols (London, 1975–6)
Nash and Nevinson in War and Peace (exh. cat., London, Leicester Gals, 1977)
C. R. W. Nevinson: The Great War and After (exh. cat., ed. C. Fox; London, Maclean Gal., 1980)
C. R. W. Nevinson: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints (exh. cat. by E. Knowles, U. Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard, 1988)
R. Cork: A Bitter Truth: Avant-garde Art and the Great War (New Haven and London, 1994)

RICHARD CORK

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