Even at the end of her career, Jessica Dismorr was still making radical shifts in her practice. This abstract, one of a series of such paintings that preoccupied her final years, is typical of the palette of soft greys and putty colours and the curving amorphous forms in her work of the late 1930s.
Although this painting may at first seem quiet, restrained and even elegant to our eyes, Dismorr chose to show these late works at the antifascist artists groups that were being formed at this time in response to the rise of the Nazis. She exhibited with the Artists’ International Association, and was one of only seven British women to be included in Die Olympiade onder Dictatuur in Amsterdam in 1936, an international show designed to counter the Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels’ efforts to condemn Modernism. Among the books in Jessica Dismorr’s library after her death in the summer of 1939 was a copy of 5 on Revolutionary Art (London, Wishart, 1935), a volume of collected essays on how art could answer the political crisis and lead the way forward.
In that sense, even though Untitled may seem worlds apart from Dismorr’s early work as member of the Rhythm Group in the 1910s – with its figurative subject matter and vivid palette – there is consistency and common ground in her unceasing risk-taking and desire to be part of an avant-garde whose work spoke to the modern world.
Text by Alicia Foster, Art Historian and novelist.
Jessica Dismorr attended the Slade School of Fine Art (1902-03) and the Académie La Palette (1910-13), exhibiting during this time at the Stafford Gallery, London (1912), the Salon d’Automne, Paris (1912–1914), and with the Allied Artist’s Association in 1912 and 1913.
She met Wyndham Lewis in 1913 and became a member of his Rebel Art Centre, signing the Vorticist manifesto published in the first issue of Blast magazine in 1914. As one of only two female members of the Vorticist Group, Dismorr brought a distinctive feminism to an arena otherwise characterised by its male participants and the masculinity of its art.
In 1925, she held her first solo exhibition at the Mayor Gallery and was elected to the London Group and the 7 & 5 Society in 1926. She was also the only female contributor to Group X. Among her circle in the 1930s was the communist and surrealist poet Roger Roughton, and she showed with the anti-fascist Artists International Association alongside Barbara Hepworth. Dismorr took her own life in London on 29 August 1939, five days before Britain declared war on Germany.