Capturing the mood of Post-War Britain, the Modern sculpture featuring in our flagship MODERN MADE auction taking place at the Mall Galleries this April showcases works by some of the most renowned, ground-breaking artists of the Modern British era.
From the semi-abstract work of Henry Moore to the sculpture of Robert Adams inspired by Moore's passion for capturing nature's organic, fluid forms, our sale communicates the evolution and influence of sculpture in the Post-War years.
Here, we take a closer look at the work of Elisabeth Frink, exploring the concept of men at war through the themes of men in flight, men in space, spinning and falling; and Lynn Chadwick’s practice of the 1960s and 1970s, looking at the evolution of his 'Stranger' and 'Winged Figure' works.
The subject of the ‘Stranger’ occupied Chadwick over the period from 1954 until 1969, in a formal theme which also informed his contemporary ‘Winged Figure’ works. As Alan Bowness explained in his 1962 monograph about the artist, the stimulus was Chadwick’s controversial commission from the Air League of the British Empire in 1957, to create a memorial to the 1919 double crossing of the Atlantic by the airship R34. Having served as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during World War Two, Chadwick had a deeply personal experience of flight and link to the concept of a winged figure, itself embedded in the myth of Icarus.
In Maquette for Stranger, the power of the anonymous figure’s torso and spread-out winged arms is contradicted by its tapering, spindly legs. It has a monumentality and stillness which yet suggests strength in movement. As Bowness continued ‘the Strangers and Watchers seem to be tensed: waiting, aware that something is going to happen…the tensions arise directly from the sculptor’s treatment of surface. His technique leads him to build an armature, constructed from straight rods, and this becomes the skin as well as the bone of the figure. Everything is thus brought on to the surface, and the network of rigid lines and absence of curves is somehow expressive of a high pitch of nervous intensity, possessed by these strange immobile creatures.’ (Bowness, op.cit., unpaginated).
Such was the significance of Maquette for Stranger that a cast of it was selected by the British Council for inclusion in the VI Bienal de São Paulo of 1961, shortly after its creation.
The work illustrated below is the female figure from Maquette VI Two Winged Figures of 1973, and was cast with its accompanying male figure in 1987. The Chadwick Estate has explained that the pair was sold to a private collection later that year. The figures became separated between then and the sale of this work at Christie's, London in 1993.
The origins of this work lie in a series of nine such paired maquettes, made between 1973 and 1974. Chadwick’s biographer, Edward Lucie-Smith, has explained: ‘the male and female are completely detached from one another physically... At the beginning of the development of this series, the figures have short wings and are supported on three legs. The wings grow, until they touch the ground and the figures can then stand on two legs only, with the wings supplying additional stability. Chadwick evidently liked the effect made by this and by the time the final group in the series is reached the wings are so sweepingly long that they resemble the trailing sleeves of exotic court costumes.’ (Edward Lucie-Smith, Chadwick, Lypiatt Studio, Stroud, 1997, p.98).
Having established a foundry at his home, Lypiatt Park near Stroud in Gloucestershire, in 1971, Chadwick was able to oversee the creative process from conception to casting and patination himself. In Female Figure from Maquette VI Two Winged Figures, Chadwick presents his distinctive realisation of the female form. Here is the gendered triangular-shaped head (a rectangular head signified masculinity) and the smooth refinement of modelling of breasts and abdomen for which many of his female figures are celebrated. Sensuality is combined with majesty and vulnerability with the presentation of nudity, the imposing, full-length wings drawn back and together and the legs which taper away from the fulsome torso. This work illustrates Michael Bird’s observation of Chadwick’s practice of the early 1970s, that saw the ‘fusion of erotic naturalism and schematised geometries’ which softened ‘the tense symmetries of Chadwick’s earlier idiom of confrontation and conjunction.’ (Michael Bird, Lynn Chadwick, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2014, p.144).
One of the greatest 20th Century sculptures, Henry Moore is known for his semi-abstract bronze figures. Often inspired by nature, Moore believed an artist should always respect natural form and materials. He believed that an artist must not take away from the essence of his materials when carving, whether it be wood, stone, or bronze.
Elisabeth Frink’s Fallen Man is part of a highly important theme in her practice, in which her childhood experience of World War Two, fascination with the nude male figure and existential concerns about mankind are brought together. Frink was nine years old when war was declared. Her father was a cavalry officer in the British Army and served abroad for most of the conflict. Much has been made of Frink’s time in Suffolk near to Bomber Command air-bases during this period.
“The very fact of someone falling in space makes me feel nervous. I very often dream of falling through space myself. It becomes a nightmare and is very frightening.
So it is always with me, this particular fear, which I think is a good thing because it starts off sculpture; it gives a sense of urgency which is important to me. ”
- Elisabeth Frink quoted by Huw Wheldon
Many of Frink's works of the early 1960s explored the themes of men in flight, men in space, spinning, falling and fallen men and eventually bird men, through which Frink explored the concept of men at war. Reviewing them later in her career, Frink declared: “These sculptures were the nearest I got at that time to subjective ideas of the concept of a man involved in some kind of activity other than just being. So my earlier figures were not at all sensuous; they were too much involved with fractured wings or the debris of war and heroics. By this last phrase I mean individual courage.’ (as quoted in Ratuszniak, A. (ed.), op.cit., p. 72).
In Fallen Man, the anonymous figure is depicted without stand or plinth. The point of direct contact between the work and the surface on which it is placed is key to conveying its concept. Facial features are suggested in the outsized head, atop the splayed and disfigured body. A sense of trauma, pathos and vulnerability is enhanced by the rough handling of the plaster from which it was cast.
Frink’s work defies precise interpretation. She declared: "what I’m doing is trying to set up a kind of encounter with the spectator, a dialogue between my sculptures and the public. People have to add part of themselves to make it work; they have to look into it as well as at it." (as quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, op.cit., p. 64).
Robert Adams was regarded as one of the foremost sculptors of his generation. His early sculpture showed influences of Henry Moore, seen in Adams particular sensitivity to the grain and structure of wood which continued throughout his practice, seen in the way he exploited the natural properties of the metal forms he used in later works. His mature work was completely abstract and he was regarded as one of the leading British exponents of constructivism.
Lyon & Turnbull are delighted to offer several auctions a year across the UK featuring to Modern British painting, sculpture, prints and drawings - including MODERN MADE in London. These Modern British art auctions feature works from the likes of Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group to Terry Frost and the St Ives School, we also handle selected works by all of 20th century Europe’s major figures and movements.
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