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Library display

Lines and Lives: Some Poetic Inventions of Modernism

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

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This display takes the Archive of Anton Lesseman as a starting point to reveal the oppositions and harmonies of the Modernist movement.

Part of the Henry Moore Institute Research Library’s Special Collections, the Anton Lesseman (1899-1971) Archive was created by artist and author Paul Becker (b.1967). Lesseman’s life story was intended as a foil – both meaningful and humorous – for that of Henry Moore (1898-1986).

Lesseman’s sketchbooks are contextualised alongside other Modernist poets and artists who were experimenting with form and verse in the first half of the twentieth century. Becker describes how “Lesseman’s obsession with the Romanesque seemed the perfect antidote to Modernism, in that it was so naïve, and so much endowed with narrative”.

Becker also uses Lesseman’s story as a way of moving focus to artists and art histories outside established canons. Works on display here underline his oppositional style, while other materials reveal further oppositions and harmonies of the Modernist movement.

Notable items from the Special Collections on display here include calligrams by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). These were reproduced for a celebration of the artist held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1968. The term calligram was invented by Apollinaire (also credited as having coined the term Surrealism) to describe poems that have a visual form relating to the poem’s content, although they have existed without this name for centuries.

The satirical poetry and illustrations of Francis Picabia (1879-1953) also feature in the display. The Picabia work is from his magazine 391, this issue from 1924 was solely intended as an attack on the Surrealist André Breton (1896-1966). Apollinaire and Picabia were once close friends and their work demonstrates the spirit and advancements of the early decades of the twentieth century.

Also exhibited is a facsimile of the beautiful poem and artist’s book ‘La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France’ 1913 by Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) and illustrated by Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979). This is an example of ‘simultaneity’, a term coined by Sonia and her husband artist Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) to refer to the clashing and enhancing rhythms of both colour and poetry.

As Modernism developed it became perhaps more well-behaved, if not less innovative, and artists and poets continued to work ‘simultaneously’ to produce collaborative publications. Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966) frequently worked with Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) and Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) to produce delicate, illustrated volumes of poetry, examples of which are shown here.

The only British poet on display, Kathleen Raine (1908-2003), released Stone and Flower, her first volume of poetry in 1943, illustrated by Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). The two women moved in similar circles and were both strongly influenced by landscape and nature.


Main image: Sketchbook page of drawings and poetry by Anton Lesseman, c.1930, ink on paper. Archive created by Paul Becker, drawings created by Jesse Leroy Smith, 2013. Courtesy Leeds Museums & Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive).


Paul Becker (Henry Moore Institute research fellow, 2011-12) tells the story of the sculptor Anton Lessemann, an unknown – and fictional – contemporary of Henry Moore.

Featuring extracts from Lesseman’s autobiography, an interview between Paul Becker and Jon Wood (Research Curator at the Henry Moore Institute), and illustrated by sketches, paintings, letters and sculptures, this publication is an exploration of the imaginary artist and the role of fiction in art making.

Product details:

40 pages
230 x 170mm
ISBN: 978-1-905462-42-1

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