Lynn Chadwick, Two Watchers V Third Version, 1967. Estimate £400,000–600,000.
Modern & Post-War British Art

Lynn Chadwick and the Vital Force

By Robin Cawdron-Stewart

P ropelled to fame in 1952, as one of the seven young British sculptors included in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of that year, Lynn Chadwick leads the way as one of the most important and influential British sculptors of the past century. With works housed in major public and private collections across the world, Chadwick forged a career in the post-war age, as part of the group labelled by the critic Herbert Read ‘the geometry of fear’. And this November Chadwick takes centre stage once more, with an exciting group of works by the sculptor appearing as part of the forthcoming Modern & Post-War British Art sale.

Lynn Chadwick, Two Watchers V Third Version, 1967. Estimate £400,000 – 600,000.
Lynn Chadwick, Two Watchers V Third Version , 1967. Estimate £400,000 – 600,000.

Curated by Herbert Read, it was in the catalogue introduction to the British Pavilion of 1952 that he coined his famous phrase ‘the geometry of fear’ to describe the nature of both abstract and figurative sculpture. The group included Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, Reb Butler, Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows at Chadwick, and signalled the emergence of a new generation of British artists onto the international stage. These sculptors were seen by Read to make manifest post-war angst: ‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear.’

Lynn Chadwick, 1963. Photograph by Jorge Lewinski. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images
Lynn Chadwick, 1963. Photograph by Jorge Lewinski. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images

Four years later, by the 1956 Venice Biennale, Chadwick was chosen as the sole British representative for sculpture, and cemented his international reputation by winning the International Sculpture Prize, beating off the likes of Alberto Giacometti and César.

Art must be the manifestation of some vital force coming from the dark, caught by the imagination and translated by the artist’s ability and skill … Whatever the final shape, the force behind is … indivisible. When we philosophise upon this force we lose sight of it. The intellect alone is too clumsy to grasp it.
Lynn Chadwick, The Listener, 21st October 1954.

As with sculptors such as Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth, Chadwick was drawn to certain motifs and themes that reappeared throughout his career and the ‘Watchers’ is amongst his most important, first explored in the 1950s, and based on a series of smaller maquettes before being working up into full-scale subjects.

Lynn Chadwick, Maquette for Watchers Version II, 1964. Estimate £20,000 – 30,000.
Lynn Chadwick, Maquette for Watchers Version II , 1964
£20,000 – 30,000

The motif allowed him to explore the dynamic potential of relationships between his figures, both physical and psychological. Originally conceived with a welded armature, then cast in bronze, the vein-like ridges span across the figures’ bodies, like wings. They showcase Chadwick’s skill as a sculptor, and his technical understanding of space, form and weight.

Lynn Chadwick, Beast VII, 1956. Estimate £80,000–120,000.
Lynn Chadwick, Beast VII , 1956. Estimate £80,000–120,000.

Another motif to which the sculptor was drawn was that of the ‘Beast’ – first exploring it as a subject in 1955 and becoming something to which he would frequently return throughout his career. Earlier that year he had visited Mykanos and Delos and there saw the ancient remains of the famous avenue of lions at Delos, dating from the sixth century B.C., with their menacing posture and welded forms. The theme took on further resonance in the post-war age, with the spiking, snarling beast fighting to be heard, reflecting the broader anxieties of the new age and the possibilities of a very different tomorrow.

I would call it attitude, you know, the way that you can make something almost talk by the way the neck is bent, or the attitude of the head; you can actually make these sculptures talk, they say something according to the exact balance …
Lynn Chadwick, quoted in Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick Sculpture, With a Complete Illustrated Catalogue, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2014, p.28.

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