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2. Revisiting the Periodical Essay (1860-1940)

Constructing Modernism Periodically: T. E. Hulme’s Essays on Art in The New Age



Cet article analyse les essais sur l’art moderne écrits par T. E. Hulme et publiés dans le magazine The New Age entre décembre 1913 et juillet 1914. En 1922, Herbert Read a publié à titre posthume la série d’essais antérieurs de Hulme intitulée « Bergson's Theory of Art » (écrits à l’origine en 1911-12) dans The New Age. En 1924, il édite un volume, Speculations, qui reprend tous les essais de Hulme tirés de The New Age, en y ajoutant « Modern Art and its Philosophy », qui était à l’origine une conférence donnée à la Quest Society en 1914. Grâce à ces écrits, Hulme s’est fait connaître comme fervent défenseur de l’avant-garde, à partir d’un débat sur l’art moderne entre l’approche expressive et la formule formaliste, défendant le droit de l’œuvre d'art à l’autonomie et à la liberté par rapport à la représentation. En se référant aux théories esthétiques de Bergson, Berenson, Riegl, Worringer et Lipps, Hulme se positionne dans le contexte de la critique d’art formaliste. Leurs idées, notamment l’intensité de la réception, l’approche subjective et la communication directe avec une œuvre d'art, ainsi que la nécessité de l’abstraction, joueront un rôle important dans la formation de la pensée moderniste en art et en littérature. Ces formulations ont été renforcées par la série de reproductions d’œuvres d'art modernistes publiées par Hulme dans The New Age en 1914. Cet article cherche à démontrer qu'à travers ses essais initialement publiés dans The New Age, dont la politique éditoriale encourageait le débat critique, la discussion et l’échange de points de vue opposés, Hulme a tenté de promouvoir la pensée moderniste en Grande-Bretagne.

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  • 1 Initially The New Age was run by Orage and his fellow co-editor Holbrook Jackson, who came with him (...)

1The New Age. A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art was published in London between 1907-1922 by A. R. Orage (1873-1934). It was oriented towards both, popular as well as elitist taste, carefully balancing itself between experimental and conservative content, and maintaining a conventional format. Yet it was profoundly dedicated to publishing avant-garde work, which it often had to negotiate, because of its educational ideal to enlighten and inform, presenting a wider discourse of views and perspectives, Brooker and Thacker note that magazines such as The New Age, whether traditional or more innovative, earned a reputation as supporters of modernism, as “[t]he non- or anti-modernist . . . gave definition to the modernist” (2009: 15). The New Age’s relationship with the ‘new’ was dialogic and negotiating. It published radical, innovative, experimental articles, criticism, literary work and art, priding itself on acting as a promoter of modernism. Yet, alongside these, it also published contributions that openly undermined them – conservative and anti-modernist texts promoting a traditional understanding of the world. This may have been deliberately arranged by A. R. Orage, who thus wanted The New Age to become a forum for competing voices, courting a range of conflicting perspectives. As Carswell asserts, Orage even staged “spectacular controversies” on the pages of his journal in order to attract more famous writers to contribute, luring them by the prospect of such antagonistic encounters (36). Orage mentions this diversification of opinions on the pages of The New Age in his introductory editorial, stating that “the new Editors1 will aim at rallying round themselves the services of the “men of good intent” of every shade of opinion (1. 1: 8). Ezra Pound remarked on this oppositional character of the magazine in one of his essays published in The New Age, which he praises for permitting “one to express beliefs which are in direct opposition to those held by the editing staff” (Pound 16. 11: 277).

2Orage was a dedicated socialist, “though romantic, arty socialist rather than a social engineer”, and so naturally his journal had socialist inclinations (Carswell 25). The ambition of the new magazine was, from the Fabian socialist perspective, to improve and enlighten the public, and inform them about current developments in politics, and the arts, and in that sense, The New Age was a product of Victorian morality, didacticism and ethics.

3Orage had the skill and talent to assemble interesting and inspiring contributors, allowing them “freedom of the explosive which is not confined in a cannon, spending itself incalculably in all directions”, as Shaw commented when discussing the magazine. Although he welcomed works by “well-known writers” he was also “particularly receptive to writers with little popular appeal and those just beginning their careers” prizing himself as a “discoverer of creative talent” (Martin 14).

4Furthermore, Orage’s aims “required the co-ordination and cross-fertilization, the unification and elaboration that are essential if a periodical is to be edited rather than agglomerated. It was in performing this function that Orage’s editorial abilities were most evident” (Martin 42). Orage’s enthusiasm for publishing controversial and ground-breaking works was well known, as Martin claims “[w]hen writers found themselves with no medium for publication, or when they were willing to submit the theories of the coterie to public discussion, the columns of The New Age were open to them.”

5Orage, who came from an impoverished background in Leeds, moved to London in 1905, where he soon became an influential personality. While editing The New Age, Orage had in mind the lower-middle class provincials – reminiscent of his own background, whom he wanted to uplift and educate by providing them with content that was new, inspiring, educational, and, at times, controversial. Yet the magazine appealed to a variety of readers from very different classes, representing differing attitudes to politics, art and culture enhancing its dialogic and oppositional practices. As Ann Ardis claims the readership included “leading literary and political figures along with the socialist autodidacts and left-leaning graduates of Mechanics Institutes, working-men’s colleges, teacher-training colleges, extension lecture programmes, and provincial universities” (417).

6Ford Madox Ford commented on the diverse readership of The New Age coming “from widely different classes” as he recalled,

I have known several Army officers who regularly studied its pages, together with at least two colonial governors, quite a large number of higher Civil Service officials, solicitors, and members of the Bar. On the other hand, I have known it read regularly by board-school teachers, shop assistants, servants, artisans, and members of the poor generally. (Martin 7)

  • 2 This paper is inspired by the author’s own book see: Buchowska, Dominika. Negotiating Modernism: Ar (...)

7Orage’s story – of a provincial intellectual moving from the north to the capital and exerting a significant influence on cultural life there – was shared by, among others, poet and critic T. E. Hulme (1883-1917). Born in Staffordshire, Hulme went on to study at Cambridge, before moving to London, where he contributed to intellectual life through his extensive writings on art, literature and philosophy. His role in the formation of Imagism in poetry is well known, yet he was also an ardent enthusiast of the modernist avant-garde art and philosophy, which he wrote about in his critical essays published in The New Age. His understanding of modernist art and ideas was informed largely, but not exclusively, by Bergson’s philosophy, especially the concept of the relativity of human experience and the role of intuition in the creative process.2 The aim of the paper is to show how by means of his essays, published in The New Age, Hulme contributed to the dissemination and development of modernist ideas in Britain. As the paper will show, this was possible thanks to the magazine’s editorial policy, which enhanced free expression of one’s ideas, as well as dialogism, and exchange of different opinions, which enabled The New Age to become a platform for open and uncensored intellectual discussion.

  • 3 See: Frances Spalding. British Art Since 1900 (Thames and Hudson, 1996) pp.19-35.

8Between 25 December 1913 and 9 July 1914 Hulme published a series of articles on modernist art and philosophy in The New Age, in which he promoted new modernist ideas among the British public by launching an aesthetic battle to counteract the parochialism and blinkeredness prevalent among the establishment of the British art world. The British art of the early twentieth century was characterized by insularity and isolation from Continental influences and was under the overwhelming influence of the Royal Academy, which promoted a dull, unoriginal and conservative style of painting deeply rooted in Victorian taste. The New English Art Club, established in 1886 in opposition to the Academy’s conservatism, soon became equally detached from the modern era. As new artistic groups started to emerge, including Walter Sickert’s Camden Town Group, and Frank Rutter’s Allied Artists’ Association, a new approach to painting gradually started to be recognized by the public. There were also bold attempts by the Vorticists, led by Wyndham Lewis, to revolutionise art and culture in Britain, with their magazine BLAST and equally daring aesthetic emanating from their art and writing. There was also the more inclusive London Group, founded in 1913-1914, which also aimed at awakening the backward nature of art in Britain.3

9In this context, Hulme’s criticism in The New Age can be perceived as his own crusade against the dominating conservative tendencies in British art, and furthermore against some of the more orthodox art journalism taking place on the pages of The New Age. Hulme’s essays, which were often accompanied by images, attempted “to define the characteristics of a new constructive geometric art which seems . . . to be emerging at the present moment” (Hulme 14. 11: 341). They did not appear in the magazine’s “Art” column as such, which was still the domain of Anthony Ludovici, an archpriest of academic art, but separately as a new series entitled “Modern Art” which may suggest their standing out as a piece of art criticism that deserves a special, separate space, and distinctive attention, but also perhaps a fleeting character of modernist art that will not permanently feature in The New Age.

10Roger Fry’s two Post-Impressionist exhibitions, held at the Grafton Galleries in 1910 and 1912, were the major artistic events of that period that shook the grounds of London’s intellectual life, challenging the entrenched parochialism of the state of art in Britain. The first exhibition showed the works of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne to the British public for the first time, while the second one also brought to their attention Picasso and Matisse, as well as their English followers such as Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Not that they were welcomed with enthusiasm, on the contrary: British gallerygoers were shocked, bewildered and repulsed, proving that the journey towards accepting modernism in art was still long, bumpy and difficult.

11The encounters between the old and the new aesthetic perceptions were also taking place at the front of art theory and criticism. The emphasis on form rather than representation in art was the key element in Roger Fry’s formalist theory. His first critical remarks on the mimetic approach can be traced to his “An Essay on Aesthetics” published in the New Quarterly in April 1909, which provided theoretical grounds for his two Post-Impressionist exhibitions. In the catalogue for the Second Post-Impressionist exhibition, Fry clearly marked the difference between Realist painters – exactly reflecting nature in their art – and Post-Impressionists and Cubists, for whom a work of art has autonomy from representation, insisting that “the distinguishing characteristic of the French artists” exhibited in his show was “the markedly Classic spirit of their work”, as these artists “do not rely for their effect upon associated ideas, as I believe Romantic and Realistic artists invariably do” (Fry 240). In his promotion of Post-Impressionism, he stressed the autonomy of form, by means of which a painting was to be analysed in terms of colour, lines, mass, and shape rather than ideas it could convey.

12Fry’s idea of the “emotional elements of design” (Fry 33) was further developed by Clive Bell in his key publication Art, published in 1914, in which he proposed the notion of the “significant form” as “lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms [that] stir our aesthetic emotions” (81). In his definition Bell does not mention any reference to the external reality but focuses on purely internal qualities of a work of art, separating art from life in a Kantian manner. Representation was insignificant, he claimed, whereas it was the “significant form” which stood behind all aesthetic experience.

13Thus when Hulme set off to write his criticism for The New Age, he was carrying theoretical baggage, as the critical discourse concerning the themes he was to address was already in use, representing a combination of the expressivist approach of the Post-Impressionists with the advocacy of the formalist mode of Fry and Bell. The essential vocabulary included such terms as design, geometry, the relation of forms and planes, rhythm and abstraction, as well as the independence of a work of art from external reality and all was naturally embraced in Hulme’s writing, although he himself resisted any significant allegiance to the Bloomsbury Group aesthetics, and so was determined to rely on other, i.e. foreign sources as well. Initially, he accepted the Romantic notion of art as advocated by Bergson’s theory of intuition, to later embrace the German and Austrian neo-classicist art philosophers such as Samuel Lubinski and Paul Ernst, as well as Wilhelm Worringer and Alois Riegl, who in the Kantian model pursued a formalist art theory proposing to see the thing in itself independently from its context and surroundings, whereby an artwork was an autonomous creation.

14As Robert Fergusson asserts, Hulme’s art criticism had its foundations in his weekly Tuesday night salon meetings, held at 67 Frith Street in Soho, between 1911 and 1914 (20). Bringing together literati, artists, philosophers and cultural critics, these meetings were an important manifestation of modernism’s wide-ranging inspirations and networking. They created an ideal ambience for Hulme, who could cross-examine and re-interpret his theoretical art criticism (20).

15As Christopher Nevinson remembered Hulme, “a brilliant mathematician and philosopher . . . was gathering round him a remarkable salon, the equal of which I have never seen, at Mrs. Kipplewhite’s place in Frith Street”. Nevinson observes that Hulme “had the most wonderful gift of knowing every one and mixing every one,” emphasising the interesting combinations of intellectuals and artistic spirits, as “there were journalists, writers, poets, painters, politicians of all sorts, from Conservatives to New Age Socialists, Fabians, Irish yaps, American bums, and Labour leaders”. Nevinson recalled the relaxed form of these assemblies during which “The refreshment . . . was chiefly beer” (Nevinson 85), and argument was used as the primary mode of discussion.

  • 4 The list of visitors includes Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein, W. L. George, J. C. Squire, Douglas A (...)

16Although the visitors to Hulme’s salon represented a variety of interests and influences, the lead of the artists emphasised the prominence of modern art in these circles.4 Relegating the role of literature to the background W. H. Davies recalled that the evenings were “mostly for artists, and not so much for literary people” (Beasley 58) while John Gould Fletcher, noting Hulme’s artistic inclinations stated that he “was far more interested in modern art and philosophy than poetry” (Gould Fletcher 75).

17Recognising the role of contemporary art in the formation of Imagism, Ashley Dukes admitted that “our general interest in “abstract” art led us especially to a revaluation of the images of poetry and a strong reaction against romantic verse” (42). To encourage their argumentative character, Hulme invited a range of artists of divergent styles and viewpoints, reaching out beyond the avant-garde of Wyndham Lewis, Nevinson, Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein, to include the Neo Realists of the Camden Town group such as Robert Bevan, Charles Ginner, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, and even Walter Sickert himself. Although today they are thought to be rather antagonistic to each other, back in 1911, these London bohemians were more united in their passion for modernity, and their shared hostility to the reactionary character of the Royal Academy, as well as in certain shared endeavours, such as the Allied Artists’ Association and the London Group.

18Hulme’s enthusiasm for foreign (see footnote 4) and diverse guests at his Frith Street evenings reveals his cosmopolitan attitude, reflecting a novelty-seeking spirit, which was crucial for the leading harbinger of Henri Bergson’s philosophy, Wilhelm Worringer’s aesthetics, as well as laying the foundations of the French free verse and in breaking ground for new artistic developments within the conformist British intellectual circles pre-1914.

19These Tuesday evenings, as claimed in their memoirs by all those who remember them, were characterised by their open-mindedness and lack of restrictions in the range of topics discussed and attitudes taken. As Fergusson explains, the fact that the participants of these lively, if rowdy, discussions did not agree on any of the topics covered, only highlighted the oppositional character of these encounters, the aim of which was to stimulate and progress thought based on antagonism, not on validation and agreement. Yet there was a lot of mutual respect and admiration for one another’s opinions and an overwhelming eagerness to challenge the held views (Fergusson 143).

20Such an understanding of a debate within a specific milieu resembled that of The New Age as a public sphere for opinion sharing that Orage wanted to propagate with his promotion of dialogism and staging of indefinite discussions. In that respect, Orage’s editorial aims corresponded with Hulme’s ability to host such meetings, which stimulated intellectual discourse and exchange of opinion without the danger of creating an upheaval. Hulme’s “authoritative and genial” character, as another fellow participant of these salons, D. L. Murray of the Aristotelian Society (of which Hulme was also a member) observed, “made him an ideal leader of such assemblies”, and in spite of his “dominating personality … he used to draw out the opinions of his guests and stimulate debate rather than to impose his own views”. And, “however rigid and narrowly defined his own philosophy was,” Murray further maintained, “he never lost his intellectual interest in all manner of systems, beliefs, art theories and personalities, loved listening to ideas the most opposed to his own, and demolishing them with a ferocity too jovial to take offence” (Jones 92-93).

21Hulme’s travels to Europe, exposing him to current events and the intellectual ambience of the new century in the Continent, equally made him more open towards avant-garde developments. Especially his numerous visits to Paris, where he visited Bergson in July 1910, to find out about the interpretation of the image through intuitive emotion, as well as to Italy, where he attended the philosophical congress in Bologna in April 1911 to listen to Bergson’s lectures again, made him absorb the Frenchman’s metaphysics and ignited in him the eagerness to filter it through to England. Upon his return home, not only did he write a series of articles on Bergson’s aesthetic philosophy in The New Age, but also gave a few talks on the famous French philosopher at the London home of Mrs. Franz Liebich. In 1912 he published his translation from French of Bergson’s Revue de métaphysique et de morale (1903) (see Brooker J. S. 61).

22Likewise, Hulme’s travels to Germany, with his proficiency in the German language, brought the inspiration of the German philosophers, in particular Kant and Husserl, who were important in the formation of his dispensational theory and the concept of the Original Sin. In November 1912, Hulme went to Berlin to study philosophy and attend the Berlin Congress of Aesthetics, where he met art historian Wilhelm Worringer, whose explanations of the connection between historical climaxes and artistic expression, as well as the notion of abstraction in the art historical context, as discussed in Abstraction and Empathy (1908), are central in the understanding of modern art (Brooker J. S. 61).

23Hulme attended Worringer’s lectures in which he found validation of his own ideas about history and art and historical conditioning of art revolutions, following the German thinker in his belief that art was closely interdependent on religion and philosophy in every era of human civilisation. Back in London, Hulme integrated Worringer’s ideas into his own theses, which he presented in a lecture at the “Quest Society” in January 1914. These ideas were quick to disseminate within London’s intellectual and artistic conclaves (Brooker J. S. 61).

24As Jewel Spears Brooker explains, Hulme’s theory of dispensation was related to the revolt of the twentieth-century mind against past eras, promoting a theory of discontinuity and anti-dualism. Bergson’s theory of intuition and his concept of the image as an intermediary between mind and matter are crucial in Hulme’s rebellion against dualism inherent in Cartesian epistemology. According to this belief prevalent in the previous epochs, the human being was inherently good but “spoiled by circumstance”, along with an assertion propagated in the nineteenth century of the beneficial value of progress. With the dawn of the new century, these humanist ideas collapsed because of the increasingly dominant belief in a discontinuity in culture, religion, philosophy and science. To Hulme, this disparity was conditioned by a different approach to human nature and dispensation in the past centuries and early twentieth century (Brooker J. S. 61-62).

25Hulme undermined the secular humanist view, proposing instead the classical religious view that all people are from birth marked with the Original Sin and thus prone to mischief, and only rigid moral boundaries can keep it under control. In this respect, one can see in Hulme a prophet anticipating all the evils that the new century was to bring with it, making it increasingly easy to deny the uncritical belief in human goodness.

26With his poetry, philosophy, journalism and rich intellectual life shaped by his active participation in London’s creative scene with its salons, foreign travels and Cambridge University education, T. E. Hulme was one of those most responsible for the formation and direction of the artistic restlessness and ferment of pre-war London. And that restlessness and agitation are what shaped the early twentieth-century mind. With his tragically premature death at the Western Front in Nieuwpoort in Flanders in 1917, British art and literature lost one of its most striking, influential and radical talents and creative personalities of the modernist avant-garde.

27Although Bergson was an important early influence on Hulme (Levenson 81) shaping his literary writings and his “theory of the image”, and enabling him to validate “new anti-romantic literary impulses”, later his ideas “stood deeply . . . opposed to Bergson”. What made Hulme turn away from Bergson was the latter’s insistence on romanticism and romantic attitudes, such as resisting the reliance on the intellect, depreciation of science as well as emphasis on intuition and spontaneity. These were made clear to Hulme after he familiarised himself with Action Française and Pierre Lasserre’s ideas. As Hulme’s political consciousness evolved he felt increasingly attracted by the group’s reactionary character including Royalism, anti-Romanticism, anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism, and religious orthodoxy (McGuiness xiv).

28Moving beyond Bergson, Hulme challenged the traditional division between romanticism and classicism, merging “order, discipline and restraint” with “freedom, expression and individualism” (Levenson 86), which was as Levenson claims “an undermining of the homogeneity of modernist doctrine, the recognition of conflicting currents” (86). This pushed him towards the revival of classicism tinted with romantic elements. Such an understanding of romanticism enabled him to develop his Imagist theory, as well as to translate them into the sphere of art, using Worringer’s and Riegl’s ideas. It was Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy from 1908 that provided a means of relating the art of the English ‘avant-garde’ to the pre-Renaissance ‘geometrical’ art of Egyptian and Byzantine civilisations,” claiming to discover “certain temperamental similarities” between ‘primitive’ and ‘modern’ art (McGuiness xv). These were related to the anti-vitalist and anti-humanist spirit he could trace in both periods setting him against Bergson, humanism and towards increased religiousness.

29Henry Mead claims that Hulme’s departure from Bergson’s ideas was related to the philosopher’s “growing celebrity” in England connected to his appropriation of vitalism identified with the “theory of cosmic consciousness” (74) with which Hulme felt “increasingly uncomfortable” (Mead 119). This form of spiritualism was gaining popularity, attracting many established thinkers, even Orage himself, whose growing involvement in the movement led him to eventually leave The New Age in 1922.

30Before analysing Hulme’s essays on Modern Art, one has to briefly recall Hulme’s art philosophical musings presented in his seminal essay “Bergson’s Theory of Art” (1911-12), published posthumously by Herbert Read in The New Age in 1922 in three instalments as “Notebooks of T. E. Hulme”. These essays clearly show Hulme’s theoretical allegiances, the origins of his admiration for the Old Masters – from Berenson, his interest in non-European art following Binyon, his embrace of the concepts of the “psychology of artistic creation” and “creative imagination” following the German art historian Theodor Lipps (Beasley 2006: 65). All these varied sources, which regard a work of art as a means to express emotions rather than the artist’s representational or illustrational skills, helped Hulme understand, explain and categorise the new art and present it to the readers of Orage’s magazine. His critical writing as it appeared in The New Age, which laid down Bergson’s aesthetic theory and explicated it to the early twentieth-century British audience reading The New Age is incontestable. He explained the essence of the “aesthetic emotion”, was the first one to formulate the concept of “direct communication” which is enhanced by the intensity of perception, and advocated the idea of “seeing things as they are,” which was a key notion for Modernism. Following Bergson, he defined the unique character of artistic and poetic perception which was essential to understanding the new avant-garde art.

31In “The Grafton Group,” which was Hulme’s first critical essay of the series on Modern Art, he explains and analyses the origins and implications of modern art. Writing his first major piece of art criticism about the artists of this small and short-lived assembly, Hulme questions Roger Fry’s role in shaping the foundations of the entire modern art movement in Britain, mainly because of a less radical touch through the incorporation of some aspects the Bloomsbury Group aesthetics. The Grafton Group, which was established by Roger Fry in 1913 to provide exhibiting opportunities to artists who embraced Post-Impressionism, replaced the Friday Club – another high profile circle of artists, which attracted important figures of the emerging modernist art in London, such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Frederick Etchells, Edward Wadsworth, Gaudier-Brzeska and William Roberts.

32In his essay, in an oppositional tone Hulme sets out his goal to undermine the traditionalists’ view, and to encourage them accept the ‘new’ art when he asserts, “I want to convince those people who regard the feeble romanticism which is always wriggling and vibrating to the stimulus of the word “new,” with a certain amount of disgust, that the art which they incline to condemn as decadent is in reality the new order for which they are looking” (Hulme 14. 11: 341). Explaining the ‘inevitability’ of the new phenomenon as a natural consequence of the world’s progress, he maintains: “[m]y assertion then that a “new” art is being formed is not due to any desire on my part to perceive something “new,” but is forced on me almost against my inclination by an honest observation of the facts themselves” (14. 11: 341). He further describes modern art as consisting of a variety of movements, such as Post-Impressionism and Cubism which, to him are “used as synonyms” yet he observes certain differences among them,

It must be pointed out that what has been grouped together as one, really contains within itself several diverse and even contradictory tendencies. One might separate the modern movement into three parts, to be roughly indicated as Post-Impressionism, analytical Cubism and a new constructive geometrical art. The first of these, and to a certain extent the second, seem to me to be necessary but entirely transitional stages leading up to the third, which is the only one containing possibilities of development. (Hulme 14. 11: 341)

33Placing a chronological order between Post-Impressionism, Cubism and Abstract Art, Hulme already identifies Bloomsbury Group’s Post-Impressionism as passé, stating that more innovative and thus “promising” styles such as constructive geometrical art or abstract art are already taking over artists’ studios and art galleries.

34Yet he remains adamantly critical in his review of the Grafton Group’s exhibition at the Alpine Club, which, although is meant to be representative of modern art, is “nothing but a kind of backwater” because the most avant-garde artists, such as Wyndham Lewis, Frederick Etchells and Christopher Nevinson are not included. Here he alludes to Lewis and his fellow artist's abrupt departure from the Grafton Group, following the publication of the ‘Robin Letter’ (1913), which denounced Fry and his claims to lead the modern art movement. There is nothing new about the exhibited works which to Hulme are predictable and banal especially because of “the effect of the general colour” which “consists almost uniformly of chalky blues, yellows and strawberry colours, with a strong family resemblance between all the pictures” contributing to “an anaemic effect showing no personal or constructive use of colour”. The subject matter of these paintings is also unadventurous as “[o]ne may recognise the whole familiar bag of tricks-the usual Cézanne landscapes, the still lifes, the Eves in their gardens, and the botched Byzantine” (Hulme 14. 11: 341).

35Hulme is particularly critical of Roger Fry, whom he claims ineffectively attempts to copy Cézanne, following his method but failing to accomplish the same kind of passion and vivacity, producing “something quite fitted for chocolate boxes” that is “sentimental and pretty”. Hulme then criticises the Grafton Group for futile archaism and follows with his quasi-philosophical debate around expression, perception and creativity in art (14. 11: 341).

36Attacking the English artists for blindly imitating the French without any deeper reflection, and for failing to effectively interpret elements of the primitive, Hulme explains, “What in the original was a sincere effort towards a certain kind of intensity, becomes in its English dress a mere utilisation of the archaic in the spirit of the aesthetic. It is used as a plaything to a certain quaintness.” Duncan Grant’s “Adam and Eve” is considered as inadequately adopting elements of Byzantine art for no particular reason, other than to give it an air of desired archaism. A lack of originality and repetitiveness are other faults noted of the artworks on display, “It is not a new art, there is nothing new and creative about it” (14. 11: 341).

  • 5 Hulme demonstrates with this piece his clear understanding of abstraction and abstract art as origi (...)

37This essay is much more than a mere attack on the English artists for their botched attempts to follow the new French movement in art. Hulme clearly states his preference for what he defines as “a new constructive and geometric art” which he sees as “the only one containing possibilities of development” (14. 11: 341).5 As Hulme explains, modern art that was being produced in the first decade of the twentieth century demonstrated a “geometric character,” and a “tendency for abstraction,” which he believed connected it with the art of ancient civilizations, as opposed to the humanist art of the Renaissance which was imitative and therefore “vital”. To Hulme this “new geometric art” was abstract and, therefore, in opposition to the “vital”, illustrational and representational art, further acknowledging that this contemporary geometric art, with its “tendency to abstraction”, was the most radical and adventurous contemporary artistic development (14. 11: 341). Yet, importantly for Hulme’s criticism, modern-day abstraction was rooted in the ancient Egyptian and Byzantine civilizations, which could clearly be traced in the work of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso, but in the works of the British artists of the Bloomsbury circle had no impact.

38Moreover, Worringer claimed the “urge for abstraction” is associated with the feeling of “empathy,” which allows one to project oneself onto a work of art. Abstraction is presented as a form of escape and isolation found in societies for which the natural world is intimidating and unwelcoming, which prompts them to look for refuge in an abstract reality, avoiding any clear reference to the external world (Veder 319). He explained that abstraction is the “urge to seek deliverance from the fortuitousness of humanity as a whole, from the seeming arbitrariness of organic existence in general, in the contemplation of something necessary and irrefragable. Life as such is felt to be a disturbance of aesthetic enjoyment” (Veder 319). Since abstraction avoids all mimetic elements, revelling in the aspect of the lifeless form, it can provide some kind of a shield from the external world’s hostility. Hulme was able to find the connection between these ideas and the modernist developments in Britain pre-1914 (Veder 319). Abstraction formed a part of the intellectual discourse at this moment, but its basis was established in part by Worringer’s theory which Hulme borrowed and exploited in his criticism. The essay is also an attempt to overcome the framework of art critical vocabulary espoused by Fry and Bell, which dominated the art scene of the time, and which Hulme criticised, but could not entirely avoid because of their powerful and far-reaching influences. Employing phrases coined by Worringer was for him an important alternative.

39What Hulme adopted from Worringer was terminology, for instance, the notion of a “geometrical style,” as well as the idea of the opposition between “vital” i.e. representational and “geometrical” abstract art which for the German art historian was related to the feeling of a withdrawal from external reality (Hickman 15).

40As Rebecca Beasley explains, for Worringer, abstractions were an attempt to organise, “simplify and individuate” the elements of the outside world which were “confused and obscurely intermingled” (68). Hulme agrees with it to some extent agrees, finding such an understanding of abstractions in Cézanne’s paintings, but he goes further to associate abstractions with the “more complicated . . . idea of machinery” which was increasingly important in the aesthetics of the new century (Hulme 14. 21: 661).

41In his essay, Hulme endorsed the new abstract artists as evolving their idiom based on Cézanne and analytical Cubism, relying on archaic and Oriental forms to experiment with their formal simplification, attempting to manifest in early twentieth-century sensitivity the same intensity of emotion that was found behind the archaic art (Buchowska 239). Hulme contrasts them with the Bloomsbury Group artists who, following the romantic trait, merely copied these ancient standards, so in their hands, they became simply decorative motifs deprived of any deeper meaning. The avant-gardists were not interested in the primitive artists’ search for representation, which they tried to eliminate, instead, their fascination with the archaic was revealed in their passion for a structural order, starkness and simplicity achieved through the pure and clean-cut form celebrating the mechanical rather than the vital or mimetic. Simplified angular shapes found in ancient art, Hulme believed, provided formulas for early twentieth-century artists to create more advanced structures evoked in modern times by machines (Buchowska 240).

42Hulme continues to express his ideas on early twentieth-century art in the second piece of the series, “Modern Art II. A Preface Note on Neo-Realism,” published in February 1914, entering into an argument with Charles Ginner’s promotion of Realism, and his conformist views on modern art which he presented in his essay “Neo-Realism” published in The New Age in January 1914. The debate, which ensued as a result of these publications, was very much what Orage was aiming at with his dialogic policy of The New Age, and revolves around the sharp conflict between various modernist groups in British art, in this case between the experimental avant-gardists, and Walter Sickert’s Camden Town Group. In his essay, Ginner, one of the leading members of the Camden Town Group, emphasising the idea of continuity in art, argues that the representational mode has remained “unbroken to this day by Cézanne and Van Gogh” and, listing all great Old Masters, he highlights the importance of naturalism stating that “Greco, Rembrandt, Millet, Courbet, Cézanne-all the great painters of the world have known that great art can only be created out of continued intercourse with nature” (Ginner 14. 9: 271).

43Ginner blames modern artists, who had abandoned naturalism, for having developed a formulaic approach seen as “bad ‘Academism’” which in their case is claimed to be nothing more than “the creative artist’s personal methods of interpreting nature and the consequent creation of a formula” which causes true art to fade away (Ginner 14. 9: 271). By relying only on the formula and not on direct contact with nature they “become Formula-machines”. Ginner further criticises them for embracing abstraction and thus destroying art and creativity because of their “shrinking from Life around them, this hunting after a something as remote from life as possible, this race for Formula-Illusions, which destroys Art” (Ginner 14. 9: 271).

44Ginner believes that creativity is associated with realism, “The creative power has always been realist,” he emphasises, whereas “the Academic painters merely adopt the visions which the creative artists drew from the source of nature itself.” Imitating the style and manner of the realistic or “creative” painters rather than looking for inspiration in nature itself, these artists “make formulas out of them” (Ginner 14. 9: 271). Accordingly, Ginner thus distinguishes between the old Academic movement “which reigned at Burlington House and the Paris Salon” but which “counts no more”, and “a new Academic movement” – the avant-garde, which is “full of dangers”. Attacking Post-Impressionism, which to him is too inclusive, and the related Cubist movement, he states that “It cries that it is going to save Art, while in reality it will destroy it”. Surprisingly, he does not condemn Cézanne, but praises his creativity and loyalty to nature in spite of the prevalence of the Cubist idiom, which he sees as a “superficial aspect of his work” (Ginner 14. 9: 271).

45Elaborating on Cézanne’s art, which he believes is a foundation for modern artists who develop their art from his, Ginner says that Cézanne “felt nature simply and interpreted it accordingly by dividing the object into separate simplified planes of colour which strengthened the feeling of solidity and depth and gave in certain cases a cubistic appearance to the depicted objects” (Ginner 14. 9: 271). It is the “Post-Cézannes” whom he condemns, for they only focus on the non-mimetic aspect of his art superficially, without scrutinising the origins of his motives, the emotion and incentives behind his endeavour, and thus only “created a formula”. “Cubism” he announces “is a development of Post-Cézannism,” which also includes “Matisse and his followers,” whose art “is a misconception of Gauguin as the rest of this Post-Impressionist movement is a misconception of Cézanne”. Finding no creativity or originality in these artists’ works, but a blunt following of a “formula” he criticises the “new art” deciding that “Cézannism and Gauguinism, i.e. Post-Impressionism, are academic movements as preached in England, being Art based on a formula. To Art, Academism is death” (Ginner 14. 9: 271).

46Envisaging the death of true art because of the artists’ increasingly drastic departure from nature, Ginner decides that “Every new Post-Cézanne, Post-Gauguin, or Post-Cubist will get worse than his predecessor as he gets further away from the light.” What could save art from this degeneration, he is convinced, is the establishment of a new movement in art, a “New Realism, i.e. Neo-Realism” (Ginner 14. 9: 271) which will counter the “slap-dash, careless, and slick painting which has been and is still so much in vogue” (Ginner 14. 9: 272).

47In his essay, Hulme launches his criticism of Ginner’s approach by clarifying his rudimentary art historical classification, again resorting to Worringer’s division and vocabulary, which counteracts Ginner, marking a clear distinction between nonfigurative and representational art: “There are two kinds of art, geometrical or abstract, and vital and realistic art, which differ absolutely in kind from the other. They are not modifications of one and the same art, but pursue different aims and are created to satisfy a different desire of the mind” (Hulme 14. 15: 467). In the second essay Hulme boldly and more frequently uses the terms “abstraction”, “abstract art” and “geometrical art”, making his writing more original and innovative in comparison to the art criticism practised by the Post-Impressionist critics, i.e. Roger Fry and Clive Bell. He is also more definitive than he was in the first essay of the series. Thus, somewhat ironically, Ginner’s disapproval of the new abstract art motivated Hulme to express his support for it even more profoundly – a tactic that was very much in line with the argumentative politics of The New Age and its editor.

48Clarifying to his readers that realistic art has its origins in the classicism of Ancient Greece and the Renaissance, while geometric abstract art is the contemporary version of “a different attitude of greater intensity,” Hulme explains that “The re-emergence of geometrical art at the present day may be the precursor of the re-emergence of the corresponding general attitude towards the world, and so of the final break up of the Renaissance” (Hulme 14. 15: 467). In line with the aesthetic theories of the German neo-classicists, Paul Ernst and Wilhelm Worringer, who stipulated that modern art stems from pre-Christian cultures, he finds the origins of the modern abstract compositions in Byzantine mosaics in which geometric forms emphasised the works’ greater intensity.

49To Ginner, the new artistic movement is “merely an academic movement of the kind, springing from the conversion of Cézanne’s mannerisms into formulae” without any reference to nature, while Hulme admonishes such a way of thinking, claiming rebelliously that Ginner’s “statements are based on such an extraordinarily confused and complicated mass of assumptions” (14. 15: 467). The leading member of the Camden Town Group does not acknowledge the new abstract movement in art, the emergence of which Hulme announces – rejecting Ginner’s idea of the abstract artists’ use of “formulae”. “The new movement does not use formulae,” Hulme explains, “but abstractions, quite a different thing. Both are “unlike nature,” but while the one is unlike, owing to a lack of vitality in the art, resulting in dead conventions, the other is unlike, of deliberate intent, and, and is very far from being dead” (14. 15: 467). Criticising Ginner for “misconception” and his “failure” to realise that there is this distinction, which he believes is related to Ginner’s assertion that all good art must be realistic, Hulme concludes that he simply “fails to recognise the existence of the abstract geometric art” (14. 15: 467).

50To Hulme, geometric abstract art is “the product of a creative process” and he criticises the realists, such as Ginner, for using such phrases as “decorative abstractions” and for clearly misunderstanding abstract art when they claim that “the repetition of empty decorative forms must soon come to an end, that pure pattern does not contain within itself the possibility of development of a complete art” (14. 15: 468).

51Hulme mocks Ginner’s interpretation of Cézanne’s relation to Cubism, especially his claims that Cézanne was an exemplary realist, “The Cubists claim that the beginnings of an abstract art can be found in Cézanne. Mr. Ginner, on the contrary, asserts that Cézanne was a pure realist” (14. 15: 468). Warning the public not to follow Ginner’s assertions, Hulme explains that Cézanne was a precursor of the movement as “there are in his paintings elements which quite naturally develop into Cubism later” (14. 15: 468).

52Consequently, he then advises of Cubist elements in Cézanne’s painting, pointing out to simplification of forms and multi-focal perspective:

You get, as contrasted with the Impressionists, a certain simplification of places, an emphasis on three- dimensional form, giving to some of his landscapes what might be called a Cubist appearance. It is true that this simplification and abstraction, this seeing of things in simple forms, as a rule only extends to details. It might be said that simplifications are, as it were, “accepted” passively, and are not deliberately built up into a definite organisation and structure”. (Hulme 14. 15: 468)

53In a lengthy debate with Ginner’s misinterpretation and obliviousness to geometric art, in which he finds “decay”, Hulme clarifies that indeed the presence of nature in art is undeniable, yet there should be a clear distinction between a realistic representation of the natural world and a subjective “interpretation of nature” (14. 15: 469).

54Although every artist finds nature inspirational, Hulme explains, only a creative artist with his subjective vision is not restricted by “the accidental relations of the elements actually found in nature, but extracts, distorts, and utilises them as a means of expression, and not as a means of interpreting nature” emphasising the creative process in the artist’s mind. Concluding his criticism, Hulme remarks that both realism and abstraction derive from nature “but while the first’s only idea of living seems to be that of hanging on to its progenitor, the second cuts its umbilical cord” (14. 15: 469).

55Hulme’s next essay of the series “Modern Art-III. The London Group,” takes as its departure point the first exhibition of the London Group, which opened in March 1914 at London’s Goupil Gallery. Emphasising the diverse character of the newly formed association of artists – “the amalgamation of the Camden Town Group and the Cubists,” he attacks Sickert’s allies for Post-Impressionist “contours” which are “meaningless” and for “detail which is entirely accidental in character”. The haphazard arrangement of the composition is condemned, as Hulme believes, following Worringer’s formalist theories that a good painting should be well planned, structured and organised “One feels a repugnance to such accidents – and desires painting where nothing is accidental” (14. 21: 661).

56Furthermore, Hulme believes that Cubism, which marks its presence substantially at the exhibition “is particularly interesting” as it is continually progressing. Distinguishing two strains within the “new movement”, Hulme asserts that “The main movement. . . arising out of Cubism, is destined to create a new geometric and monumental art, making use of mechanical forms” and is the only movement “containing possibilities of development”. The second tendency is “based simply on the idea that abstract form, i.e. form without any representative content, can be an adequate means of expression”. Thus Hulme lays the foundations to introduce the more advanced abstract idiom of the expressionist style, as found in works by Kandinsky, in which “instead of hard, structural work like Picasso’s you get the much more scattered use of abstractions” which due to the lack of “controlling sensibility . . . [and] mechanical structure” he nonetheless finds rather “dilettante” (14. 21: 661).

57Drawing on Worringer again, Hulme again brings up the similarities between the new movements and primitive cultures, “a certain resemblance to Archaic, Byzantine and African art” specifying the present-day “re-emergence of a sensibility akin to that behind geometrical arts of the past” (14. 21: 661). He explains that the most forward-looking faction of the London Group associated with Vorticism, rather than blindly copying these ancient motifs into insignificant forms, has discovered a way to connect them with the idea of the machinery which they explore in their art, creating a modern equivalent for the same aesthetic sensibility. It is the machinery that provides a major stimulus for the unprecedented artistic creation of this new group, as Hulme observes:

58They do not shrink from forms which it is usual to describe as unrhythmical, and great use is made of shapes taken from machinery. The beauty of banal forms like teapot-handles, knuckledusters, saws, etc., seems to have been perceived for the first time. A whole picture is sometimes dominated by a composition based on hard mechanical shapes in a way which previous art would have shrunk from (14. 21: 661).

59Yet, Hulme criticises the use of the abstract motifs “for their own sake” which to him leads to a “romantic heresy” and, thus it is not “destined to survive”, although it has a “certain educative influence” (14. 21: 661). Wyndham Lewis’s now lost canvases such as Eisteddfod and Christopher Columbus come under Hulme’s review in which he decides that the latter work “contains many admirable inventions, but is best regarded as a field where certain qualities are displayed, rather than as a complete work of art”. Hulme also refers to other Vorticists, such as Wadsworth and Etchells, and the futurist Nevinson, who is “much less abstract than the others” (Hulme 14: 21: 661).

60David Bomberg’s In the Hold receives special attention from the critic, who sees the painting as a case of the true radicalism of experimenting with pure form where “representation has already been excluded” (14. 21: 662). He proposes that the viewer should focus on the “pure form” that originates within the image and in which any representation is unintended, as the artist wants “to exclude even the general emotions conveyed, by abstract form, and to confine us to the appreciation of form in itself tout pur.” Hulme analyses the level of abstraction in Bomberg’s painting establishing his own theory as follows:

61In looking at a picture one never sees it as a whole, one’s eye travels over it. In doing so, we continually find certain expectations fulfilled-a boot is followed by a leg, and even when there is no representation at all, certain abstract forms are naturally continued by other forms. Apparently this fulfilled expectation is an added non-aesthetic emotion, and must be excluded by those who wish to take an absolutely “pure” pleasure in form itself. Mr. Bomberg therefore cuts his picture up into sixty-four squares, and as each square is independent of its neighbours, the “fulfilled expectation” I spoke of above is excluded, and whatever pleasure we take must be in the arrangement of shapes inside each square (14. 21: 662).

62In spite of his deep understanding of this level of abstraction, Hulme finds it incongruous and iconoclastic, a “reductio ad absurdum of this heresy about form” with no possibility for further development. Although on closer inspection the painting does possibly show immigrants emerging from the hold of a ship, Hulme does seem to be oblivious of this mimetic content, which to him is just an “added” value to the painting, which allows him to concentrate on the abstract element of the artwork which aligns with his analysis of pure abstraction (14. 21: 662).

63The artist that receives the most praiseworthy review is Jacob Epstein, for his creativity, as Hulme writes how the artist “[s]tarting from a very efficient realism, he passed through a more or less archaic period; he seems now to . . . have arrived at an entirely personal and modern method of expression” (14. 21: 662). Epstein’s sculptures, Hulme thought, most accurately reflected his own theories of abstraction, and so the critic could wholeheartedly endorse Epstein’s most controversial contributions, claiming that “he is certainly the greatest sculptor of this generation” and “I have seen no work in Paris or Berlin which I can so unreservedly admire.” The archaic features of the Carving in Flenite are particularly interesting to Hulme, who finds them by no means “imitative” but “what has been taken from African or Polynesian work is the inevitable and permanent way of getting a certain effect” (14. 21: 662). Hulme found Epstein’s sculptures so significant because they exemplified the philosophical theories borrowed from Worringer and Ernst, emphasising the links between modern art’s origins in the archaic sensation and primitive imagery.

64However, Hulme devoted the last essay of the series not to Epstein but to David Bomberg (“Modern Art IV. – Mr. David Bomberg’s Show”), whom he thought was an artist of “remarkable ability” (14. 21: 662). One of the leading artists associated with the experimental avant-garde, David Bomberg was crucial to Hulme’s interpretation and theories of modern art. Bomberg used an abstract geometric style related to Cubism and Futurism highlighting the notion of “pure form” which led him to simplify the human figure and its environment into pointed, angular shapes, moving around in a jerky way, thus manifesting their affinity with the machine. His major compositions, such as Ju-Jitsu, The Mud Bath and In the Hold depict the human figure functioning within the urban setting. Bomberg’s works were also painted in a style reminiscent of the Vorticists, with whom he was associated but never officially became a member of their group, in spite of Wyndham Lewis’s eagerness to recruit him among his followers. Bomberg was steadily adamant about not becoming a Vorticist, which allowed him to remain individual and independent of any obvious artistic alliances and dictates (Buchowska 246-247).

65Hulme supports Bomberg’s artistic freedom and his rejection of the Vorticist aesthetics “for his work is certainly much more individual and less derivative than the work of the members of that group” (15. 10: 230). Bomberg’s bold embrace of abstraction is a “logical development” and an obvious continuation of his artistic inquiries, and “not merely the result of a feverish hurry to copy the latest thing from Paris.” With this last comment, Hulme admonishes the artists of the Bloomsbury Group, whom he had always criticised for imitating the modern French style rather than conveying deep exploration of the painted image (15. 10: 230).

66The significance of T. E. Hulme’s articles on ‘Modern Artists’ acquires a new dimension when set in the context of the series of articles on art written by Walter Sickert and published in The New Age at the same time yet of a completely different character, promoting more conventional art and criticising the ‘new movement’, including Hulme. The fact that The New Age decided to include simultaneously both contributors who were so different in their views, with each promoting a different kind of art, is yet another manifestation of the magazine’s orchestration of a dialogic strategy to facilitate the exchange of divergent perspectives.

67The publication of Hulme’s essays alongside Sickert’s demonstrates The New Age’s dialogism – deliberately orchestrating divergent perspectives and inviting authors of diametrically opposing views to court mounting dialogic exchanges. Ann Ardis sees these dialogic practices as a crucial force behind The New Age’s role as a harbinger of cultural change, involving the introduction of modernism in Britain. As she argues much of its content was shaped in an attempt to position itself within controversy around current thought of the day, publishing articles that were openly supporting e.g. the avant-gardist experiment as well as those which defied it (Ardis 2009: 215).

68To make his polemics and theoretical deliberations on modern art clearer and more understandable Hulme contributed to The New Age with a series of images which complemented his essays. However, the series also came to be seen as a polemical response to Sickert’s series “Modern Drawings” which appeared at around the same time, enhancing the visual side of the magazine, yet representing a different, representational vision of modernity.

69Starting in March 1914 his “Contemporary Drawings” reproduced some of the most experimental artwork the English artists produced around 1914. In the preface to the series Hulme, explaining his new contribution states:

THIS series will include drawings by David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, F. Etchells, Gaudier-Brzeska, C. F. Hamilton, P. Wyndham Lewis, C. R. W. Nevinson, Roberts, and E. Wadsworth. Most of them are members of the London Group, which is now holding an exhibition in the Goupil Gallery. Some of the drawings are Cubist, some are not. Perhaps the only quality they possess in common is that they are all abstract in character. ... this series includes all those artists in England at the present moment who are working in the direction which alone contains possibilities of development… You will have, moreover, the advantage of comparing these drawings with the not very exhilarating work of the more traditional school–with those, shall I say, in the series Mr. Sickert is editing. (Hulme 14. 22: 688)

70Yet, in the coming months only five images of the nine that had originally been planned appeared on the pages of the magazine: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s The Dancer (New Age 14. 20: 625), David Bomberg’s Chinnereth (New Age 14. 22: 689), William Roberts’ Study (New Age 14. 24: 753), C.R.W. Nevinson’s The Chauffeur (New Age 14. 26: 814), and Edward Wadsworth’s The Farmyard (New Age 14. 26: 815). To most of them Hulme attached an explanatory note (e.g. Gaudier’s Dancer), with the aim to educate the readers and explain the intricacies of these experimental images, which he found crucial in his unofficial cause to promote the new art among the British audience.

71By reproducing these images The New Age can be seen to fulfil its social and educational function as it increased the reception of these artworks beyond that of an elitist exhibition at an art gallery. Therefore, it can be regarded as a mobile art gallery providing a periodical exhibition space, potentially expanding the audiences, whose access to these artworks was thus enabled and facilitated.

72Hulme’s review and reproduction of Epstein’s drawing The Rock Drill, which is considered by many art critics and commentators to be one of the most outrageous and provocative modernist works of art in Britain, is especially meaningful. Because of its incorporation of major avant-garde motifs, it has come to be seen as a powerful statement on modernism. The Rock Drill was Epstein’s most radical response to the complex relationship of the modern era with the machinery which was increasingly dominating people’s lives and minds, while its elements and the associated iconography were gradually entering the arts. It consists of two parts: a plaster sculpture of a human-robot figure is sitting atop a ready-made industrial drill; the form of both elements is similar – sharp, pointy, geometrical and mechanical, while the figure seems to be merging with the drill forming one entity. The implication is that of aggression and violence inherent in modernist ideology. The work, in which the drill is jutting into the figure’s loins or womb, has inevitable sexual connotations, enhanced by the little embryo contained in the figure’s ribcage, alluding to its procreating powers.

73Hulme’s decision to include a piece of criticism on the rebellious Epstein and a copy of a drawing for his sculpture on the pages of The New Age was a bold one and confirmed his position as the advocate of the avant-garde in Britain. The publication, which appeared in December 1913, was followed by a host of reactions ranging from shock, indignation, and disgust to support and praise.

It all started with Anthony Ludovici’s regular column on “Art”, in which he wrote a stinging criticism of Epstein’s sculpture, after visiting his exhibition at the Twenty-One Gallery. Unable to find any correlation between the work and the external world, Ludovici uses a series of offensive and hateful phrases to refer to Epstein, calling him an “isolated ego” and a “minor and non-value-creating ego”, whose art “has no interest whatsoever, save for cranks and people who have some reason of their own in abetting or supporting purposeless individualism à outrance. To these, the particular angle of vision of a minor personality has some value – to me it has none”. (Ludovici 14. 7: 214-215)

  • 6 As Munton claims “The importance of this sculpture was instead asserted by the editor of the New Ag (...)

74Such biting remarks prompted Hulme to write an equally if not more intensely sharp reply which, as if to irritate Ludovici even more, contained the reproduction of an image of Epstein’s sculpture. The purposefulness of this editorial strategy, directed specifically at Ludovici, can be confirmed, with Robert Scholes, referring to the “ad hoministic intensity of the critique Hulme generated”, remarking on its abusive character and “bantering tone” (Scholes 2006: 49). The issue of the magazine of December 25, 1913, published Hulme’s essay “Mr. Epstein and the Critics” and the image of a study for The Rock Drill seen from the rear. However, that particular image – the figure as seen from behind – was not Hulme’s initiative but Orage’s,6 which again exemplifies The New Age’s orchestration of staged confrontation and encouragement of discussion by publishing highly contrasting views and opposing ideas. In his defence of Epstein, Hulme does attempt to explain the aesthetic meaning and connotations of Rock Drill, recalling Classical Idealism, Kant, the concept of Weltanschauung, the idea of the “Ding an sich,” and a rebirth of the primitive impulse in early twentieth-century thought, which brings him closer to German philosophy of Worringer and Ernst, while allowing him to move away from Bergson’s Romantic promotion of intuition which he dismissed around this time. Paradoxically as a defender of radically modern art, Hulme also reveals his conservative stance, pointing out to some figurative elements in Rock Drill, criticising the idea of progress and expressing his nostalgia for Christian values that he found so vivid and inspirational in Byzantine mosaics. The most outspoken aim of Hulme’s essay, however, was to defend Epstein against the cruellest and “the stupidest” criticism penned by Ludovici, whom Hulme considers “a charlatan” of “a little Cockney intellect”. He further condemns Ludovici for calling Epstein a “minor personality – of no interest to him” and suggests that only a “little personal violence” would be “appropriate”. Ludovici responded to Hulme’s attacks, justifying his stance which, to him, was only an attempt to fight “anarchy in art” found in the new art on many levels, further accusing this art of provoking “danger” (Ludovici 14. 9: 281).

75All this infuriated Wyndham Lewis, who joined this highly antagonistic debate, condemning Ludovici in a series of invectives, calling him a “cowardly and shifty individual” and “obviously a fool” who produces “impudent journalism” writing only “dismal shoddy rubbish” and “gibberish widely and vacantly inflated” (Lewis 14. 10: 319).

76This example of a vivid exchange of opinion on the pages of The New Age, shows how intricate and difficult was the emergence of modernist thought in Britain, even in a magazine like The New Age. Yet because of its editorial policy of the promotion of opposing ideas, and encouragement of discussion, critics like Hulme were able to defend and develop the new understanding of the avant-garde, and the critical thinking associated with it. Dan Stone believes that Hulme and Lewis became “so aggravated [by Ludovici’s attack on Epstein] mainly because they could not admit just how close in fact they were to Ludovici’s way of thinking on most matters” (38). Alan Munton also claims that Hulme tackles the notion of abstraction and the machinery and its presence in modern art very delicately, focusing instead on the representational elements of the sculpture, as if to convince his readers that there is nothing dangerous in new art, gradually taming it and introducing it to their provincial minds.

77The aim of this paper was to analyse T. E. Hulme’s essays on modern art published in The New Age and to point to the way they contributed to the formation and development of the emerging avant-garde in Britain in the first decades of the twentieth century. Because of the editorial tactics employed by the magazine itself, and in particular its editor A. R. Orage, the art critics who wrote in the magazine, whether in support of or in opposition to the modernist avant-garde, contributed to its promulgation by engaging in negotiation, discussion and controversy. Having subscribed itself to the modernist cause, The New Age deliberately orchestrated staged negotiation and dialogism, courting exchanges of opinion diachronically, in order to enhance and galvanize its modernist agenda. Therefore, one can find on its pages reproductions of experimental avant-gardist works of art by Picasso, Gaudier-Brzeska, Epstein, Nevinson, and Bomberg to name a few, or read a radically innovative essay promoting modernist thought by Ezra Pound or T. E. Hulme, and come across in the very same issue, articles that openly criticize, attack and undermine these violently, following the anti-modernist predisposition of some intellectual circles in Edwardian Britain. Such discursive duality and endorsement of self-contradiction as practised by The New Age were symptomatic of the new movement which prided itself on heterogeneity and diversity. As the book argues, it was possible to maintain such a dialectic relation between innovation and tradition, partly by embracing the aesthetics of violence and the rhetoric of negativity in its criticism.

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1 Initially The New Age was run by Orage and his fellow co-editor Holbrook Jackson, who came with him from Leeds, where they were both involved in the cultural activities of the Leeds Arts Club. Jackson left The New Age at the end of 1907 over a disagreement with Orage about the kind of Socialism they wanted to promote.

2 This paper is inspired by the author’s own book see: Buchowska, Dominika. Negotiating Modernism: Art Criticism in The New Age magazine, 1907-1922. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2019. All direct references have been marked accordingly.

3 See: Frances Spalding. British Art Since 1900 (Thames and Hudson, 1996) pp.19-35.

4 The list of visitors includes Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein, W. L. George, J. C. Squire, Douglas Ainslie, Rupert Brooke, Ashley Dukes, Alfred Orage, Beatrice Hastings, Eddie Marsh, Robert Bevan, Harold Monro, and William Russell Flint, as well as some foreigners from France, Germany and Italy (see Nevinson 1938: 85). Epstein adds to the list Stanislawa de Karlowska, a painter and Robert Bevan’s wife, Ramiro de Maetzu, the Spanish poet as well as numerous Americans like himself and Ezra Pound, emphasizing the international character of the guests (Epstein 60).

5 Hulme demonstrates with this piece his clear understanding of abstraction and abstract art as originating from the primitive, in connection with Worringer’s theory as outlined in his highly influential book Abstraction and Empathy (1908), which was not fully translated into English until 1953, but which Hulme had read in German, and having met the author in Berlin, disseminated his ideas in London. As Worringer claimed there are psychological impulses behind abstract creations, which are more satisfying visually because they enable one to hide behind the abstract image in order to protect oneself from the violence and materialism of the outside world. Yet to Worringer himself there was no clear connection between abstract art of the past and the newly formed avant-garde art. Hulme’s ‘discovery’ associating abstraction in Worringer’s understanding, with early twentieth-century art, seems to be highly original and enlightening in the context of Hulme paving the way for the avant-garde modernism in Britain (see Veder 319).

6 As Munton claims “The importance of this sculpture was instead asserted by the editor of the New Age, who filled the back page of the number in which Hulme defended Epstein with a dramatic reproduction of “The Rock-Drill”, a drawing showing the naked driller from the rear” (Munton 2006: 80).

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Dominika BUCHOWSKA, « Constructing Modernism Periodically: T. E. Hulme’s Essays on Art in The New Age »E-rea [En ligne], 20.2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2023, consulté le 01 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
Dominika Buchowska is the author of “A Sense of Form”: The Art of David Bomberg (2015), and Negotiating Modernism: Art Criticism in The New Age 1907-1922 (2019). She is an assistant professor at the Department of English Literature and Literary Linguistics at the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, where she teaches English Literature and Culture. Her research interests are British modernist and avant-garde art and literature, little magazines, art criticism, as well as connections between poetry and painting. She has written a number of publications on the formation of the London avant-garde around 1914, the art of David Bomberg, the “Whitechapel Boys”, Vorticism, Polish Futurism, the art and poetry of the Great War.

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