Bronze Ballet by Edward Wadsworth

This harbour scene is based on Le Havre in northern France. Although this is a peaceful scene, it was painted during the early years of the Second World War, in Maresfield in Sussex. From there, Wadsworth could hear the bombing of French ports by the German forces.

Wadsworth painted many collections of marine objects like this. He was interested in animism – giving life to inanimate objects. Here the forms of the ships’ propellers suggest movement, or a dance, while also hinting at the function they will perform out at sea. 

Edward Alexander Wadsworth (29 October 1889 – 21 June 1949) was an English artist, closely associated with modernist Vorticism movement. He painted coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life in tempera medium and works printed using wood engraving and copper. In the First World War he designed dazzle camouflage for the Royal Navy, and continued to paint nautical themes after the war.

Wadsworth soon signed up for the Navy after 1915. His companion Wolid Gordier-Brzeska was killed on the front line, and Bomberg and Lewis found their faith in machine-age purity severely challenged by the realities of the trenches. Wadsworth spent the war at the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on the island of Mudros until it was uninhabited in 1917, transferring the dazzling camouflage designs to Allied ships. Ships called Dazzle, these ships are not disguised as invisibility, but use ideas derived from Vorticism and Cubism to confuse enemy U-boats in an attempt to figure out the direction and speed of travel. The Dazzle was invented and designed by Norman Wilkinson. A fan of modern ships, Wadsworth used nautical themes in his art throughout the rest of his career.

In Liverpool Drydock’s main painting dazzle-ships in 1919, Wadsworth moved away from the avant-garde in the 1920s and adopted a more realistic style. Wadsworth is a member of Unit One. Towards the end of his life, his work became increasingly bizarre and surreal, although Wadsworth never had any formal association with the official surrealist movement.

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