With the inclusion of iconic sculptures within Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art sale on 10-11 December, I couldn’t help but think back to the position of British Sculpture at the 26th Biennale in 1952, where many of these sculptors featured for the first time.
Leading the selection is Lynn Chadwick's Maquette IV Inner Eye – one of five works that Chadwick made in preparation for the monumental sculpture The Inner Eye, which first appeared in the 1952 Venice Biennale, and now features in the collection of MoMA, New York. With its rib cage of attenuated jagged iron and the solid shield-like sheet of rough welded iron, the work captures the new and threatening forms that were part of the vocabulary of this generation of artists.
Lynn Chadwick's Maquette IV Inner Eye.
Working in the aftermath of the War and with the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, Chadwick joined ranks with Robert Adams, Geoffrey Clarke, Reg Butler, Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull and Bernard Meadows. These young sculptors, born between 1913 and 1930, were moving away from Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore's abstract and carved sculptures to more linear and twisted, open forms, introducing new and unique ways of working with welded metals.
The groundbreaking 'New Aspects of British Sculpture' at the British Pavilion of the 1952 Venice Biennale saw these sculptors exhibiting side by side for the first time. Linking an older generation with the new, the striking difference between Moore’s Double Standing Figure and works by Reg Butler would have been instantly apparent. Within the accompanying catalogue, Herbert Read said: “these new images belong to the iconology of despair or of defiance. These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time: a linear, cursive quality.” The British Pavilion was described in reviews as 'the most vital, the most brilliant, and most promising in the whole Biennale.' The spotlight was truly on Britain.
Kenneth Armitage's People in a Wind (Small Version I). £60,000-80,000.
Chadwick went on to win the International Sculpture Prize at the 1956 Biennale, beating Giacometti. That Chadwick had only had his first exhibition in 1950 and had only been working in sculpture for six years makes this even more of a surprise.
Works by Butler, Paolozzi, Meadows and Armitage will also feature in this highly anticipated sale. British sculpture has certainly developed since the 1952 Venice Biennale, but there is still a strong case to be made for 20th century British sculpture today, representing this country's most original and successful means of artistic expression.