That this wonderfully poised sculpture should come from an important American collection will come as no surprise. Chadwick’s work, more than that of any of his contemporaries from the bright, young generation of British sculptors who forced themselves on the world’s consciousness at the 1952 Venice Biennale, can be found in private collections across the globe, from Australia to South America, the United States to Europe. Because of this, his work has almost the same level of recognition as that of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and like them his profile amongst international collectors rests more on his work from mid-career. In Chadwick’s case, this is from the 1970s through to the 1990s, which were ironically those years when his friends and contemporaries who had shown with him in Venice in 1952, such as Kenneth Armitage (see lots 172, 173), found things more difficult.
Seated Figure was created in the very middle of this fertile period for Chadwick and displays all of the clarity and refinement of his work of the 1970s onwards, as the spikiness of the 50s and tough block-like shapes of the 60s gives way to smoother, finer forms, with sweeping lines and delicate geometric shapes and angled planes. Yet for all their sharp lines, Chadwick’s works of this period are infused with a softness and flow, especially in his female figures, whose billowing robes and delicate feet and hands stand in contrast to the boxy, bullish forms of his men.
This is perfectly expressed in the present work, in which the visual flow starts at the very point of the head, fans out to the points of the shoulders, then cuts back in (and out) to the tips of the breasts. At this point, everything has run in straight lines, but Chadwick then beautifully uses the natural break in the body to introduce slight curves, as the figure’s clothes stretch around the belly, curves that then continue into the pleats of the skirt. The strong, straight line then resumes in the legs and feet, the right leg picking up the line of the breast and the angle of the feet mirroring the incline of the head. This is Chadwick at his best: a sculptor who effortlessly combines strength with subtlety, rigour with poetry.
For an artist such as Chadwick, whose work always has an architectural quality (his sculptures are mostly constructed through building an armature of welded rods, before being filled in and given sculptural weight with lime-plaster mix), the seat element of a seated figure is always going to present an opportunity for further artistic intervention. Here, the step form gives the work a lightness (to emphasise the delicacy of the feet) but also pulls the eye back to the same plane of the face, creating balance. The width of the seat is also perfectly judged too, giving a sense of an overall triangle, which both grounds the work and gives it an understated elegance.
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