The present work is the third of five versions of Figure Lying on its Side that Armitage created in the late 1950s. His concern with these works was to take sculpture out of the domestic or gallery setting and instead anchor the form to the physical space, to give it a grounding in reality. And this is what Armitage does, both physically and metaphorically: the present work is one which seems to speak all too clearly of the fragility of the figure following the Second World War, one whose recovery was overshadowed by the looming Cold War. There is a brittle strength to the figure, its body a shield-like mass from which elongated limbs protrude, ‘reduced almost to sticks’ (the Artist, quoted in Tamsyn Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage Life and Work, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, London, 1997, p.44). The surface of the bronze is scored and pitted, further evidence of the figure worn down by a hostile world, yet its stance and survival also tells of tenacity.
Armitage was invited to represent Britain again at Venice in 1958, this time as the only sculptor. This established him as one of the most significant voices in post-war European sculpture, as did his inclusion in seminal surveys of European and American figurative art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the late 50s, shows such as The New Decade - 22 European Painters and Sculptors and New Images of Man, where his work was shown alongside – and, importantly, equal to – that of Richier and Giacometti. In Figure Lying on its Side (Version 3) we can see that powerful and unique vision of Armitage’s which both caught the attention of the international art world and captured the spirit of the times so perceptively.
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