Privately Held

Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)

L’Animal, 1929

SKU: 9219
Signed, titled and dated on label to reverse. Oil on canvas.

Height – 19cm
Width – 24.2cm


England and Co, June 1988; Private collection
1929, Cat No 6; Paule Vezalay, 1988, 9 June – 7 July 1988, Cat No 1; Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and her Contemporaries, Pallant House Gallery, 2nd November, 2019 – 23rd February, 2020.  

Born in Bristol, Marjorie Watson-Williams moved to Paris in 1926 and

assumed a much more glamorous name, Paule Vézelay. She felt that her

original name was too long and old-fashioned and not suited to the

modernity of her work, and she loved the Romanesque abbey at Vézelay.

But it also had the effect of deracinating her. When the Tate came to

organise a ninetieth birthday tribute exhibition in 1983, Ronald Alley

wrote in the catalogue that “there are many who either do not know her

work or assume her to be a French artist who probably died some years ago”.

L’animal was painted in 1929, the year she got together with the

Surrealist artist André Masson (they were engaged at one time, but she

broke off the relationship). She was also friendly with Jean Arp and

Sophie Tauber-Arp. Her work of the late 1920s is semi-automatic and

abstract, featuring cursive linear motifs, but it subsequently became more

geometrical and in 1934 she joined the international group Abstraction-


She counts as one of the earliest and most imaginative British abstract

painters; her interest in abstraction pre-dates that of Barbara Hepworth and

Ben Nicholson and precedes the famous Unit One exhibition and book of

1934. Her incorporation of thread and wire into her work at that time are a

major contribution to the art of the period.

In a BBC television interview in 1984 (Women of Our Century),

Germaine Greer did her best to steer the artist towards certain answers (“In

England you usually exhibited as M. Watson-Williams. Did you do this on

purpose?‚Äù) but Vézelay looked puzzled by this line of questioning (‚ÄúWell, it

was my family name.”). She preferred to talk about her work.

Commentary by Patrick Elliott, Chief Curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

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Paule Vezelay
1892 - 1984

Paule VŽ zelay (nŽ e 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 LG the
next year. In 1926, she moved to Paris and adopted the name Paule
VŽ zelay, which ‘ despite the moniker’s distinctly French nature ‘
she claimed was “for purely aesthetic reasons”. 

Closely associated with AndrŽ Masson (1896’1987) (with
whom she lived for four years), Jean Arp (1886’1966) and Sophie
Taeuber-Arp (1889’1943) during this period, by the early 1930s
VŽ zelay’s work had become increasingly abstract and she joined
Abstraction-CrŽ ation 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.


Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)
Archway, 1929
Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)
Three Forms on Grey
Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)
A Moving Form and a Yellow Circle
Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)
L’Animal, 1929
Paule Vezelay (1892 - 1984)
Tubes et Rubans