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Details & Cataloguing

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction

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London

Kenneth Armitage, R.A.
1916-2002
FIGURE LYING ON ITS SIDE (VERSION 3)
bronze
length: 79cm.; 31in.
Conceived in 1957, the present work is from the edition of 6.
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Provenance

Kunstnernes Kunsthandel, Copenhagen, where acquired by the previous owner, 1962
Acquired by David Bowie in 1994

Literature

Tamsyn Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage Life and Work, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, London, 1997, cat. no.KA65, p.144 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

Like many artists of his generation, Kenneth Armitage’s early career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the Royal Artillery spotting enemy aircraft, an experience which was to deeply influence his work. The war created a powerful backdrop for Armitage and his contemporaries and in 1952 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale along with William Turnbull, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bernard Meadows and Reg Butler, among others. The resulting works presented a striking, highly-charged selection of British sculpture, prompting Herbert Read to coin the term the ‘Geometry of Fear’ to describe them. The Biennale exhibition made Armitage an international star, and he sold almost every work, with pieces acquired by Peggy Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. 

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.

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction

|
London