Your currently viewing RAW Modern | Switch to RAW Contemporary

Paule Vézelay (1892 - 1984)

Lines in Space, No. 42, 1964

Catalogue essay by Blanche Llewellyn

Paule Vézelay, born Majorie Watson-Williams, changed her name to obscure both her nationality and gender. She also felt her new moniker better suited the modernism of her practice. A British artist, she embarked on her career as a figurative painter but during her residency in Paris, her so-called country of adoption, from 1926 to 1939, she transitioned from figurative to abstract painting. In France, she became closely associated with André Masson, Jean Arp, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and in 1934, she joined the avant-garde group Abstraction-Création.

Vézelay’s exploration of space led her to innovative approaches in abstraction, notably through her multi-dimensional constructions, considered pioneering works in the modern abstract movement. By 1940, she incorporated wires alongside threads, allowing the exploration of curves and straight lines creating obvious shadows adding depth against monochrome backgrounds. She experimented extensively with this technique, producing variations featuring colored lines, diverse backgrounds, and cut-out wooden shapes in relief, as seen in this composition Line and Shape No. 42. In an unpublished essay sent to the Tate Gallery in January 1964, Vézelay noted that “I knew that any untrained hand guided by borrowed knowledge could, with a minimum of practice, make lines on a two-dimensional surface in such a way that they create an illusion of three-dimensional space, but was there any reason why artists should continue to confine Living Lines to a two-dimensional surface while ordinary lines outside the Realm of Art enjoyed freedom in Space?”


Lines in Space
x W41.5cm
Signed and dated on a label on the reverse, Copper wire and relief in wood.
Vézelay, Paule

Paule Vézelay (1892 - 1984)

Paule Vézelay (née Marjorie Watson-Williams) studied at Bristol School of Art, London School of Art and Chelsea Polytechnic. She first exhibited in London in 1921 and joined the London Group the next year. In 1926, she moved to Paris and adopted the name Paule Vezelay, which – despite the moniker’s distinctly French nature – she claimed was “for purely aesthetic reasons”. Closely associated with André Masson (1896–1987) (with whom she lived in Paris for four years), Jean Arp (1886–1966), Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943) and Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1996) during this period, by the early 1930s Vézelay’s work had become increasingly abstract, and she joined Abstraction-Création in 1934. One of only a few British members, she was committed to international, non- representational art. She returned to London at the outbreak of WWII and experimented with new artistic forms, including reliefs, painting and textiles, some of which were shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1968. A retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1983.