The Crowd 1916



The Crowd, oil on canvas 78" x 60", exhibited at the Second London Group exhibition 1915 as Revolution,also known as Democratic Composition. Acquired from the artist by Captain Guy Baker and presented by his widow Mrs. Stross to the Tate Gallery London.



Wyndham Lewis

1882 born on the yacht Wanda off Amherst Nova Scotia.Attended various prep schools in England and America

1897 Rugby School, poor academic results.
1898-1901 student at Slade School of Art, takes studio on Charlotte Street London. 1902, key visit to Madrid.
1903-1908 lives in Paris, visits Haarlem to copy paintings by Franz Hals.
1908 trip to Quimperle, Brittany. Raw material for short stories.
1909 meets Sturge Moore, Binyon, and Ezra Pound.
1911, exhibits at the first Camden Town Exhibition.
1912, decorates a nightclub, the Cave of the Golden Calf. Exhibits Kermesse (a Breton scene ) at the Allied Artists.
1913, joins Omega Workshops, but in October breaks with Roger Fry.
1914, starts Rebel Art Centre. June, publishs BLAST.
1915, first Vorticist show at the Doré Galleries. March 2nd London Group, exhibits The Crowd, July 1915 Published BLAST 2.
1916/7 artillery camps. Dec. reports to Ypres battery. Becomes a war artist.
1918 writes a novel Tarr.
1919 contracts severe flu.
1919 Guns exhibition.

Responses to the Work.

"Mr. Lewis' Crowd might pass as a fantastic setting to a Chinese play in raw yellow, red, white and mustard colour, with Chinese characters in fretwork suspended in confusing abundance." Observer 14.2.1915.

"First and foremost there is Mr. Wyndham Lewis' huge decoration The Crowd (85) a wondrous pattern of imaginative parquetry, formed apparently of brick forms of dull red which combine very happily in juxtapaosition to the old gold bands that form the principal lines of the composition." Sunday Times 21.3.15.

" The Crowd by Mr.Wyndham Lewis appeared to be a ground plan of innumerable series of cells without doors. It was drawn with geometrical accuracy and neatly coloures, and might have passed for a plan executed by some erratic architect's draughtsman." Connoisseur May 1915.


"Men drift in thrilling masses past the Admiralty, cold night tide. Their throng creeps round corners, breaks faintly here and there up against a railing barring from possible sights... The police with distant icy contempt herd London. They shift it in lumps, passim, touching and shaping it with heavy delicate professional fingers... In ponderous masses they prowl with excited hearts. Are the crowds then female ?" BLAST 2 1915."The night came on. He allowed himself to be carried by the crowd. He offered himself to its emotion which saturated him at length... The human cables had been disposed no doubt by skillful brains....[ as an experiment] he would not only mix with the crowd, he would train himself to act its mood, so that he could persuade its emotion to enter him properly... In isolation he would examine himself in the Crowd-mood.... He went outside into the crowd again. He sank like a diver.... Suddenly he experienced a distinct and he believed authentic shock. It could only come from the crowd ! Evidently it had come from its mind - the cerebration of this jelly-fish ! Hence the sting ! He had received his first novel senation. What was it exactly - could he define it ? Well, it seemed to be that he was a married man !.....The English crowd is a stupid dragon. It out not to be allowed out alone ! I have lain in it for hours together and have received no sensation worth noting As Crowd it is a washout...." Added, "You have read what Cantleman felt. That is pretty near to what I felt. Great interest, great curiosity. But no identification of my personality with the general sensation.... what was meant by Crowd Master was that I was master of myself. Not of anybody else - that I have never wanted to be. I was master in the crowd, not master of the crowd. I moved freely and with satisfaction up and down its bloodstream in strict, even arrogant isolation from its demonic impulses." Blasting and Bombardiering, 1937. "Hobson he considered was a crowd. You could not say he was an individual, he was in fact a set. He sat there a cultivated audience, with the aplomb and absence of self-consciousness of numbers, of the herd - of those who know they are not alone. Tarr was shy and the reverse by turns ; he was alone." Tarr 1928 version." Death is however only a form of Crowd.....The Crowd is an immense anaesthetic towards Death..." Blasting and Bombardiering, 1937



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Wyndham Lewis, Case Study One

The Theatre Manager - drawing 1909 Victoria and Albert Museum London 11" x 12. Le Bon writes in The Crowd,

"It is often impossible in reading plays to explain their success. Managers of theatres when accepting pieces are themselves as a rule generally uncertain of their success, because to judge the matter it would be necessary to transform themselves into a crowd."

That a successful Manager of a Theatre is a Crowd in himself. Here the manager shown may well be intended by Lewis to be Shakespeare himself, "holding a mirror up to Nature".



Wyndham Lewis, Case Study Two

back to BLAST



from BLAST no.1

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The Writings of Gustave Lebon,

The Crowd, a study of the Popular Mind, 1896.

"it has been the task of the masses before to bring about the destruction of a worn-out civilisation... its final dissolution is brought about by those unconscious and brutal crowds known justifiably enough as barbarians. Crowds destroy and do not create. In consequence of the destructive nature of their power, crowds act like the microbes which hasten the dissolution of enfeebled or dead bodies. In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of the individuals , and in consequence their individuality, are weakened." The characteristics of the crowd, "The first is that the individual forming part of the crowd acquires solely from numerical considerations, a sentiment of invincible power which allows him to yield to instincts which had he been alone he would perforce have kept under retraint. In any crowd every sentiment and act is contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest to the collective interest. The most careful observations seem to prove that an individual immersed for some length of time in a crowd in action soon finds himself - either as a consequence of of the magnetic influence given out by the crowd or from some other cause of which we are ignorant - in a special state which much resembles the state of fascination in which the hypnotised individual finds himself in the hands of the hypnotiser. The activity of the brain being paralysed in the case of the hypnotised subject, the latter becomes the slave of all the activities of the spinal cord, which the hypnotiser directs at will. [the detailed characteristics of the crowd are ] impulsiveness, irritiabiltiy, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgement and of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of the sentiments and others besodes - which are almost always observed in beings belonging to inferior forms in evolution - in women, savages and children for instance. "

"An orator in intimate communication with the crowd can evoke images by which it will be seduced....As soon as a certain number of living beings are gathered together whether they be animals or men they place themselves instictively under the authority of a chief.... The leaders we speak of are usually men of action rather than of words. They are not gifted with keen forsight... They are especially recruited from the ranks of those morbidly nervous exciteable half-deranged persons who are bordering on madness. [two classes of leader, the energetic whose will is intermittent, and the rarer group whose will is enduring] the world belongs to the crowd leader who possesses a persistent will-force."

"Their tumultous bursts of violence are like the tumultuous waves which the tempest raises on the surface of the ocean..."

"It is often impossible on reading plays to explain their success. Managers of theatres when accepting plays are themselves often unsure of success, because to judge the matter it would be necessary to transform themselves into a crowd."



The Writings of Gustave Lebon, The Psychology of Socialism 1899

"The revolutionary ideal was to shatter the classes and corporations and reduce every individual to a common type...Nothing could be more strongly opposed to the Anglo-Saxon individualism which forms the banding together of individuals, obtains everything by it and confines the action of the state within narrow limits."

"It is only in our days and above all since the revolution that Individualism, at least under certain forms has at all developed among the Latin races. .. It is a far cry from the Individualism practiced by the Anglo-Saxons for example, among other nations... Young and vigorous races such as the Anglo-Saxons in which the mental inequalities between individuals are not so great, accommodate themselves very well to such a state of things."

"The Parisian workman approaches the Savage in his impulsive nature, his lack of foresight, his want of self control. and his habit of having no guide but the instinct of the moment."

That most of French Socialists are among the middle classes... a tearful and sentimental Socialism. "Public opinion no longer knows anything but extreme sentiment or profound indifference. It is terribly feminine, and like a woman, has no control over its reflect movements."

That we must see in the crowd more than "the insatiable wild beast thirsting for blood and rapine. When we sound the subject a little we find on the contrary that the worst excesses of crowds have often arisen from extremely generous and disinterested ideas, and that the Crowd is as often victim as well as murderer."

"History can only be clearly understood if we bear in mind that that the morale and the conduct of the isolated manare very different to those of the same man when he has become part of a collectivity."

The Crowd as Sea "Their bursts of violence are like the tumultuous waves that the tempest rains on the surface of the ocean, but without troubling the serenity of its profounder waters... The Socialists imagine that they will easily carry the masses with them. They are wrong. They will very quickly discover that they will find among the masses, not their allies but their most implacable enemies. The crowd may doubtless in its anger

" Socialism is in fact nothing but the religion of the Stomach."

"There is nothing more feminine than the Gallic crowd."

Team Spirit "For a long time it has been remarked that in the football matches against English teams the French are always losers because the English player, preoccupied not with his personal success but with that of his team, passes the ball when he is unable to stick to it, while the French player holds it obstinately, preferring that his side should lose, rather than he should see the ball gained by a comrade."



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