by Paule Vézelay
oil on canvas, circa 1927-1929
25 5/8 in. x 21 3/8 in. (651 mm x 543 mm)
Sitterback to top
- Paule Vézelay (Marjorie Watson-Williams) (1892-1984), Artist. Sitter in 1 portrait, Artist of 5 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Paule Vézelay (Marjorie Watson-Williams) (1892-1984), Artist. Artist of 5 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.
This portraitback to top
Born Margery Watson-Williams in Bristol in 1892, she studied art in her home town and then went to the Slade in 1911. Her first one person show was in Brussels in 1920 and it was from there that she first visited Paris. 'English art then bored me to tears' she said; in 1926 she made her first abstract drawing, changed her name and settled in Paris. Entitled 'Harmony', this self-portrait reflects the abstract style of work that Vezelay developed as a member of the Society Abstraction-Creation which she joined in 1934. She became friends with Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Tauber-Arp, and in 1938 she exhibited in Milan with Kandinsky, Arp and Seligmann. In September 1939 the onset of war forced her to return to Bristol where she made ink studies of bomb damage and took remarkable photographs of barrage balloons. On arrival back in Paris in 1946 she found that she had lost everything. Back in London in the 1950s she produced textile designs for Heal's. The Grosvenor Gallery held a retrospective of her work in 1968 and she featured in a BBC2 programme, 'Women of our Century' in August 1984. (Liz Rideal).
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Pioneering Women, p. 92 Read entry
The painter, etcher, sculptor and book illustrator Paule Vézelay (née Marjorie Watson-Williams, 1892-1984) was born and brought up in Bristol. She studied art there and, from 1911, at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Her first solo exhibition, in 1920, was in Brussels: ‘English art then bored me to tears,’ she declared. She settled in Paris in 1926 and changed her name to Paule Vézelay. Her work became increasingly abstract. In 1934, she became a member of Abstraction-Création (an association of abstract artists that had been established in Paris three years earlier), and this self-portrait reflects the pioneering abstract style that Vézelay developed in the group. A friend of Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, she exhibited with Arp, Wassily Kandinsky and Kurt Seligmann in Milan in 1938. The following year, she returned to Bristol, producing war-related ink studies and taking photographs. In the 1950s, she designed textiles for Heal’s department store in London, and in 1968 enjoyed a retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery.
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- Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 65 Read entry
From art school in Bristol, the city where she was born, Marjorie Watson-Williams went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1911. Her first one-person show was in Brussels in 1920 and it was from there that she first visited Paris. 'English art then bored me to tears,' she said. In 1926 she made her first abstract drawing, changed her name to Paule Vézelay (inspired by the medieval Burgundian basilica village) and settled in Paris.
Entitled Harmony, this self-portrait reflects the abstract style of Vézelay's work. The muted colours - pale grey, pink and mauve - enhance the dreamy quality. Stylistically it is reminiscent of work by Russian Rayonnists or Italian Futurists.
Vézelay joined the Société Abstraction-Création in 1934, becoming friends with Jean Arp (1887-1966) and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943), and in 1938 she exhibited in Milan with Arp, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Kurt Seligmann (1900-62). In September 1939 the onset of war forced her return to Bristol, where she made abstract ink studies of bomb damage, took remarkable photographs, and made pastel drawings of barrage balloons (now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London). On her return to Paris in 1946 Vézelay found that she had lost all the paintings and possessions she had left in France. Back in London in the 1950s she produced textile designs for Heal's. The Grosvenor Gallery held a retrospective of her work in 1968 and she featured in the BBC 2 programme Women of Our Century in August 1984. In 1982 Vézelay declined to represent her work in the Women's Art Show 1550-1970, held at the Nottingham Castle Museum, arguing that her position was primarily that of an artist rather than a woman artist.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 633
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 203 Read entry
This self-portrait was painted soon after Marjorie Watson-Williams settled in Paris in 1926 and changed her name to Paule Vézelay. Born in Bristol, she had studied at the London School of Art but began visiting Paris in 1920. Attracted by the avant-garde artistic developments then unfolding there, and also by contact with Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky, Juan Gris and other leading artists, she began exhibiting at the Salon des Surindépendants. Vézelay’s entry into this alternative artistic world was a decisive influence, both personally and in terms of her development as a painter.
The portrait marks a vital moment in that process. It shows Vézelay at around the time that she met the surrealist artist André Masson, with whom she had an intimate relationship until 1932. Its bold, simplified forms manifest a transition from her earlier, impressionistic style towards more experimental work involving surrealist imagery and abstract shapes. Encouraged by her friendship with Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Tauber-Arp, she eventually devoted herself completely to abstract and joined the Paris-based Abstraction-Création group. Vézelay became one of the first British artists to abandon figuration entirely.
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by women artists (12 September 2001 - 20 January 2002)
Events of 1927back to top
Current affairsThe United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, acknowledging the full independence of the Irish Free State, led at the time by W.T. Cosgrave, the the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State.
Art and scienceThe BBC gains its Royal Charter making it a public corporation and a public service broadcaster accountable to its audience. John Reith became the first Director General with the directive to 'inform, educate and entertain.'
InternationalStalin expels Leon Trotsky from the Soviet Communist Party, giving himself greater control of the party and country by ousting opposition elements.
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