The revival of interest in British sculpture of the post-1945 years which has taken place during the past two decades has been substantial. Led by the major figures such as Moore and Hepworth, and supported by what probably constitutes the most potent generation of sculptural talent Britain had ever produced, the work itself still manages to appear incredibly powerful.
At the forefront of this new wave of British sculptors was Lynn Chadwick. Although he had built a small reputation at home, he was included in an important group exhibition in 1952, New Aspects of British Sculpture in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The decision by the British Council to present an exhibition of sculptors who were then largely unknown outside Britain, and in some cases actually still little-known there, was a brave statement of intent and future possibility. New Aspects of British Sculpture was exceptionally perspicacious in its choice of artists, the eight sculptors being Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows, Paolozzi and Turnbull, all of whom would go on to great successes throughout the decade and beyond, and was to provide an important platform not only for the particular artists but for the wider body of British sculpture. Whilst there was a considerable variation in the styles, working methods and aims of the eight sculptors, what is undeniable is that during the 1950s, a new generation had emerged onto the international sculpture stage.
Chadwick had previously made a number of large-scale sculptures, such as The Fisheater and Dragonfly (both Tate, London) but his work began to develop towards a more obliquely anthropomorphic manner. One of the most significant explorations by Chadwick at this time would be the group of sculptures related to The Inner Eye of 1952 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Physically massive, standing well over two metres high, this important piece is incredibly complex, both in terms of its construction and its content. An attenuated jagged iron framework encloses a rough lump of clear glass which can turn, catching the light. The whole is partially enclosed by a solid, almost shield-like, sheet of welded iron with a central hole. It is strong yet vulnerable, huge yet weak. Like so much of Chadwick’s work at this time, it feels very much a thing of its time, a creation of the nuclear age, made in the shadow of the Cold War and the threat of the bomb.
The present work, exhibited here for the first time in over half a century, is the first maquette for The Inner Eye and shows how many of the central elements were established right from the beginning. Less ribcage-like than the later versions, it has a live quality, a fragile tension that gives the piece an almost introverted quality as if it is mulling over some private conundrum deep within its glass heart. The solid iron section begins to feel very much like a protective screen, reminiscent of those used by welders, or, more chillingly, as seen in the period photographs of observers of the nuclear tests that were taking place at the time. The placing of the glass element in this first version is however, rather different from subsequent workings, with the turning component placed here behind a grille of sharp points. By making our own intervention subject to a potential barrier, Chadwick has heightened the fear within the piece, making our own interaction with the piece subject to the risk that the sculpture may, and can, strike back at us if we come too close.