The excellent IWM North exhibition of Lewis’s art attracted fewer reviews than might have been expected (where were you, Jonathan Jones?). The London Review of Books did not fail us, and employed Jon Day to review the show. Unfortunately, what he wrote was largely a disaster area. His grasp of facts was not strong--he invents a 'second wife' for Lewis, who married once--and his ability to look at an artwork and describe what he saw is weirdly deficient.


His review is here: watch out for his remark that there are 'no explosions' in Lewis’s war art. Readers might also wonder why, during the First World War, Lewis suddenly becomes an admirable artist after being very bad at it during the Vorticist period.

At the end of the review appears Paul Edwards’s reply to this failed art criticism--but that is the heavily-edited version published by the LRB, no doubt to prevent embarrassment to their contributor. (Dr Jon Day is a Lecturer in English at King’s College London; no radical, he writes often for the Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph. He discussed Lewis briefly in a 2012 LRB review of Will Self’s novel Umbrella: no doubt the impulse for this gig. If only he shared Self’s high regard for Lewis!)

Here is the full letter that Paul Edwards wrote to the LRB. This is much more interesting!

Readers should also notice what Dr Day has to say about Lewis’s anti-Semitism. In his second paragraph (get it in early) he writes that Lewis published Hitler in 1931, and 'a satirical take on anti-semitism with the title The Jews: Are They Human? in 1939'. That book is in fact a committed piece of philo-Semitism. This clever elision with Hitler gives the impression that The Jews wasn’t serious, at a serious time. It was.

What gave Dr Day the idea that The Jews was 'satirical'? Well, this did: a piece by occasional critic Skye Sherwin, who writes anatomising art pieces for The Guardian. After the oh-so-clever nonsense about the T. S. Eliot portrait, see the last section, the appropriately-headed 'Despicable me': https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jul/07/wyndham-lewis-ts-eliot-jigsaw-puzzle-rebellion-radicalism

by Dr Alan Munton