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Paule Vézelay
(1892 — 1984)

Born Marjorie Watson-Williams in Bristol, Paule Vézelay was one of the first British artists to fully commit herself to the abstract movement. From 1909 to 1912 she studied at the Bristol School of Art, followed by the London School of Art from 1912 to 1914. She initially became known as a book illustrator and printmaker, producing lithographs and wood-engravings but following her first visit to Paris in 1920, her mature work as a painter began. Painting in a simplified post-impressionist manner, she gained a reputation as a figurative artist, her subject matter including group scenes of people gathered in theatres and restaurants. Mixing with many of the famous artists of the School of Paris and adopting a French name, she decided to settle in Paris in 1926. From 1929 to 1932 she lived with André Masson and it was during this time that her work became more abstract in style, consisting of lines and floating shapes in atmospheric space. She joined the Abstraction-Création group in 1934 and her paintings developed into depictions of clear-cut forms in contrasting colours or black and white. She also produced three-dimensional constructions known as Lines in Space, exhibited in Paris in 1937 and probably her most original contribution to the abstract movement.


Vézelay moved back to England on the outbreak of the Second World War but found it difficult to gain recognition by the British art establishment. Although she founded a London branch of the Parisian constructivist abstract movement, Groupe Espace, which held an exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall in 1955, she never fully became part of the London art scene and she worked in growing isolation until her work was rediscovered at the end of her life. As the Tate Gallery’s retrospective exhibition of 1983 recognised, Vézelay has an important place in art history as one of the first British artists to devote a lifetime to developing and exploring Abstractionism.