Cuthbert Hamilton – A Puzzle

Cuthbert Hamilton was a signatory to the Vorticist manifesto in Blast, but is one of the lesser known Vorticists. He worked with Lewis on Madame Strindberg’s Cabaret Theatre Club decorations in 1912-13, and also worked at the Omega Workshops with Lewis and other future Vorticists. This picture, which has surfaced recently, is called Vorticist Nude, and presents us with a problem. First, the picture is signed and dated 1913, which I have no problem with. But it is titled Vorticist Nude. The Vorticist group was announced no earlier than June 1914 (although the term ‘Vortex’ had been used by Lewis and Pound, since December 1913), and so this title must have been applied retrospectively.

The style is unashamedly decorative, and reminiscent of the style of work that was being turned out at Fry’s Omega concern. Given that Hamilton was there for most of 1913, it is not surprising that this painting’s style is closer to Omega than to Vorticism, especially given the date for the painting. We have here something I would define as proto-Vorticist; there are no flat planes of colour, no well-defined edges that characterise the Vorticist aesthetic of 1914 onwards. Despite this, it uses what was to become the Vorticist palette and exhibits daringly fluid brush strokes, marking out Hamilton’s work as being in the forefront of British artistic endeavour at this time. It is great news that it has surfaced. I am sure that more pictures like this will be unearthed in the future.

Hamilton later turned to ceramics, and worked with William Staite Murray at the Yeoman Pottery from 1915 to 1919. At the Pottery, he was able to continue to develop the decorative motifs that date from his time at the Omega Workshop.

Are there any living descendants of Cuthbert Hamilton who would like to get in touch with me? I have a small snippet of news I would like to share with them…