Lot 27
  • 27

Kenneth Armitage, R.A.

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Kenneth Armitage, R.A.
  • Seated Group Listening to Music
  • bronze
  • height: 53cm.; 20¼in.
  • length: 111.5cm.; 43¾in.
  • Conceived and cast in 1952, the present work is number 1 from the edition of 3.


Gimpel Fils, London
Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London, where acquired by the present owner


Paris, Salon de Mai,1953 (probably this cast, details untraced);
Varese, 2nd International Sculpture Exhibition of Open-Air Sculpture, 1953 (probably this cast, details untraced);
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The New Decade - 22 European Painters and Sculptors, 10th May - 7th August 1955, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated (another cast), with tour to The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Los Angeles County Museum, and San Francisco Museum of Art;
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kenneth Armitage, July - August 1958, cat. no.7, illustrated (another cast);
British Pavilion, XXIX Venice Biennale, Kenneth Armitage, S.W. Hayter, William Scott, 1958, cat. no.61 (another cast).


Tamsyn Woollcombe, Kenneth Armitage, Life and Work, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, London, 1997, cat. no.23, illustrated p.32 (another cast).


Structurally sound.There is a possible spot of restoration to the 4th leg in from the left hand edge, which may have been carried out by the Artist. There is further minor surface dirt and casting residue with ware to the patina on the far right hand side, possible corresponding with an old adhesive label in this area. This excepting the work appears in very good overall condition.Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present lot.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Tamsyn Wollcombe for her kind assistance with the cataloguing for the present work.

Seated Group Listening to Music was created whilst Armitage was teaching at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court, an experimental art school, quite unique at the time, whose strength lay in inviting the brightest talents of the day to teach (often in a discipline outside their actual practise). In 1952, Armitage was starting to become recognised, having only been out of the army for six years, where, as a gunner, he had learnt to spot both enemy and friendly planes from their flat, black silhouettes, something that  was to have a profound influence on the series of slab-like figures that he began work on at Corsham. And yet this was the year that Armitage, alongside seven other young sculptors, was to find international acclaim, through Herbert Read’s presentation New Aspects at British Sculpture at the XXVI Venice Biennale. The work of Armitage, Robert Adams, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull struck a deep chord, both with major public instutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and with prominent private collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim. It seemed to perfectly describe a world still struggling to come to terms with both the liberation of the concentration camps and the onset of a new political Terror that would coalesce into the Cold War.

Read’s introduction to the exhibition described these young sculptors’ work as using an ‘iconography of despair, or of defiance. Here are images of flight, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear. Their art is close to the nerves, nervous, wiry. They have seized Eliot's image of the Hollow Men... They have peopled the Waste Land with iron waifs.’ (Herbert Read, New Aspects of British Sculpture, 1952, un-paginated). And yet, equally, there was an optimism in much of these sculptors, particularly Armitage: the human spirit had endured and triumphed (just about) over the inhumane, the body, no matter how starved and ragged, held the key.

Armitage began making sculptures of linked figures in 1950 – with works such as Figures in the Wind and Family Group, inspired by glimpses of mothers and children on the street, gathered close together so that their bodies merge into one, with heads and legs then sticking out from this mass. He continued to explore this theme throughout the 1950s as it provided both a conceptual anchor – Armitage’s profound belief in the necessity of close human relationships – and a formal structure, a horizontal articulated by verticals. As he wrote in his statement in the catalogue for MoMA’s The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors, which included Seated Figures Listening to Music: ‘in addition to evoking emotional and sculptural experiences, I wanted the object to take its place sympathetically in the ordered human world…. Gravity stiffens this world we can touch and see with verticals and horizontals – the movement of water, railways and even roads, our canals… architecture and engineering. We walk vertically and rest horizontally, and it is not easy to forget North, South, East, West and up and down’ (Museum of Modern Art, New York, The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors¸exhibition catalogue, p.59).

The flatness and frontality of Armitage’s sculpture of the early 50s, the sense of a surface stretched taut over a framework, lends a fragility to them, which sits as counterpoint to the strength in the emotional ties that link the figures. And it is this fragility that gives the work an urgency that feels as real today as it did sixty years ago, as the world remains an uncertain place.