Lot 8
  • 8

Percy Wyndham Lewis

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Percy Wyndham Lewis
  • Circus Scene
  • signed and dated 1913; also signed and dated 1914.
  • collage, pen and ink, watercolour and gouache


Edward Wadsworth, A.R.A.
Graham Gallery, New York
Sale, Sotheby's London, 6th October 1993, lot 115, where acquired by David Bowie


London, Tate, Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism, 6th July - 19th August 1956, cat. no.37;
London, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Wyndham Lewis, 1882 - 1957, 1990, cat. no.8, illustrated p.22;
London, Olympia, Wyndham Lewis: an Exhibition within the Fine Art, Design & Antiques Fair, Olympia, 1st - 6th March 2005, un-numbered catalogue (WL-050), illustrated n.p.;
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Wyndham Lewis 1882-1957, 5th February - 16th May 2010, cat. no.44, illustrated p.143.


Walter Michel, Wyndham Lewis, Paintings and Drawings, Thames & Hudson, London, 1971, p.358, no.160, illustrated pl.24;
Richard Cork, Art Beyond the Gallery in Early 20th Century England, Yale University Press, 1985, p.111, illustrated pl.141 (as Cabaret Theatre Scene);
Paul Edwards, Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2000, illustrated p.119.

Catalogue Note

In Circus Scene, although we see all of Lewis’ trademark machine-like rendition of the body, the overall sense is more of one of Kandinsky’s ‘improvisations’ from his Der Blaue Reiter period (entirely contemporary to this piece) with the free-wheeling composition circling around an empty centre, any sense of ‘narrative’ reduced to abstracted symbols denoting actions and mood, man and horse rendered as Palaeolithic pictograms, right down to the all-over synaesthetic blue tone, for Kandinsky the colour of the infinite. Inevitably, though, Lewis’ insistent angular line draws us back from such mysticism, replacing it with its hard urban cousin, dystopia. His work always has the air of a Fritz Lang film to it, something that perhaps drew David Bowie to Lewis’ work, having been so inspired by Lang’s Metropolis in the 1970s.

Lewis had a lifelong fascination with the world of the stage. Whether it be the circus, playhouse, ballet or cabaret, the theatricality of these shows tapped into his fascination with the absurdist nature of life, and formed for him a constant source of inspiration in his work.  Early in his career he noted the carnival he saw in Brittany was: ‘the fete of the fishing population…beneath the pretexts of “things to be seen,” sideshows, stalls, dances, circuses etc…has for its chief use the gathering together of a vast and odourless concourse of people…that true and ideal societies may be form’d’ (Wyndham Lewis, A Breton Journal, 1908, quoted in Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Wyndham Lewis, Bloomsbury, 1990, p.22). Circus Scene brings together just such a motley crew, from the well-coiffed audience members, to the top of a farcical clown’s head, to the whip wielding ringmaster. Lewis’ vision forms a droll satire, an intense sardonic imagining, encapsulating in one image a lively sense of wit and humour which pervades so much of both his painted and written work.