T.S. Eliot (1938)
Durban Municipal Art Gallery
© The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis: The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust

Lewis’s first impression of the poet T. S. Eliot in 1915 was of a “sleek, tall, attractive transatlantic apparitionówith a sort of Gioconda smile.”  Their friendship was long lasting, and one of Lewis’s final paintings was of Eliot, but he tended to be as critical of his friends as of his enemies.  Lewis was highly sceptical of Eliot’s theory that a writer should keep his personality out of his work.   

In Eliot’s review of Lewis’s novel, Tarr, Lewis is described as “the most fascinating personality of our time … In the work of Mr. Lewis we recognize the thought of the modern and the energy of the cave-man.”  Eliot was the sitter in two major portraits by Lewis; in 1938, and in 1949, probably the last portrait he completed before he went blind.

Lewis called Eliot “the premier poet of Anglo-Saxony.”  T. S. Eliot was one of the defining figures of modernist literature.  This portrait was undertaken when Eliot’s reputation as a respected poet was becoming widely accepted in England.  The painting put both men in the headlines after the Royal Academy rejected it for its annual exhibition in 1938.