The New Form of Sculpture in Post-War Britain

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Four Figures Waiting. Estimate £350,000–450,000.
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Throughout the 20th century British sculptors have been the leading exponents on a truly international stage, promoting the breadth and versatility of the mediums of stone, metal, wood and glass. From Jacob Epstein’s Tomb for Oscar Wilde, unveiled in 1914, through to the strikingly modernist direct carvings by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth in the 1930s, Brits became predominant in the post-war period, with the generation of young sculptors taking things in a very new direction.

Sotheby’s 20-21 November sale of Modern & Post-War British Art celebrates the breadth of sculpture in the post-war period, and showcases the central role that Britain played in promoting sculpture all around the world.

The New Form of Sculpture in Post-War Britain

  • Lynn Chadwick, Beast VII. Estimate £80,000–120,000.
    Lynn Chadwick formed part of the group of sculptors shown at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Curator Herbert Read introducted the show with the now-famous description ‘the geometry of fear’ to describe the nature of both abstract and figurative sculptures in the show. Sculptors included Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, Reg Butler, Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows and Chadwick and signalled the arrival of a new generation of British artists onto the international stage.
  • William Turnbull, Female. Estimate £300,000–500,000.
    William Turnbull’s impressive sculpture Female was conceived in 1989, but has all the hallmarks of his earlier work dating from the 1950s, with a worked, detailed surface and a deep, rich patina that emphasises the features of the female form.
  • Geoffrey Clarke, One & One III. Estimate £6,000–8,000.
    A close contemporary of Turnbull and Chadwick, sculptor Geoffrey Clark studied stained glass at the Royal College of Art, and was involved in perhaps the greatest public commission of the post-war era for the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. However it was for his extensive experimentation with the method of casting in aluminium that Clarke is best known, seen here in his 1986-8 One & One III. This involved experimenting with the newly developed material of polystyrene, used as a means of direct carving.
  • Dame Barbara Hepworth, Four Figures Waiting. Estimate £350,000–450,000.
    Four Figures Waiting is an encapsulation of much of the theory that Hepworth had been investigating throughout her working life. The work draws together the diverse strands of organic-derived forms of the post-war period and the abstract modernist sculpture of the pre-WWII years. The work typifies her exploration of the nature and dynamics of human interactions. Throughout her career Hepworth had been grouping together forms in balanced discursive compositions, but her later sculptures became increasingly relating to totemic, primitive figures referencing groups such as the Easter Island stones and Native American structures.
  • Henry Moore, Family Group. Estimate £1,300,000-1,800,000.
    Formerly in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, November’s sale is led by Henry Moore’s important Family Group sculpture, conceived in 1945 as the Second World War drew to a close. The work relates to Moore’s most important public commission for Barclay School, the first purpose-built comprehensive secondary school built in Britain after the war. Family Group is the maquette for this, Moore’s first large-scale commission in bronze – a seismic moment in his long and distinguished career.
  • Sir Anthony Caro, Cigarette Smoker 1 (Lighting a Cigarette). Estimate £7,000–10,000.
    Anthony Caro was one of the many young sculptors who in the 1950s looked towards the older generation of artists and sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Indeed in the 1950s Caro worked for Moore as a studio assistant at his home in Hertfordshire, and assisted him with the production of his larger scale works. It was not long before Caro set out on his own, challenging the confines of traditional sculpture by taking it down from the plinth and placing it directly on the ground. However before these groundbreaking sculptures shook the art world, Caro experimented with a more figurative approach, seen here in the rare early sculpture Cigarette Smoker 1 from 1957.
  • Kenneth Armitage, Richmond Oak. Estimate £12,000–18,000.
    A contemporary of Chadwick and Turnbull, Kenneth Armitage formed part of the great renaissance in British sculpture in the 1950s. Traditionally focusing on the human form, in the 1980s Armitage shifted his focus to the natural world, creating a series of sculptures and drawings inspired by the oak trees in Richmond Park, London. The present work, Richmond Oak, conceived and cast between 1985 and 1987, is a maquette for a larger version of Richmond Oak, housed outside the British Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.
  • Dame Elisabeth Frink, Lying Down Horse. Estimate £60,000–80,000.
    Elisabeth Frink had a natural affinity with the animal world, and created sculptures of dogs, cats, wild boars and buffalos, but it is was her equine subjects that became the most popular and sought-after by collectors. Frink drew on the ancient connection between man and horse, and in the 1990s recalled: “[the] horse sculptures are nothing to do with the horses you see here in England – the hunter, the show horse, the race horse. They’re much more to do with the ancient spirit of the horse and with its evolution in relation to man…"
  • Emily Young, African Head. Estimate £50,000–70,000.
    Recently cited as Britain’s ‘greatest living stone sculptor’ by the Financial Times, Emily Young’s work in stone celebrates the natural beauty of the materials, and the rich visual heritage throughout Western art history. The Maremma Heads were the first series of works produced by Emily Young after she moved her studio from London to an empty semi-ruined monastery in Italy, near Rome in 2011. Here she worked with the local stone, a kind of brecciated quartz. The heads were carved from her own pantheon of human characteristics; warrior, poets, lost angels, the silent and the silenced.
  • Antony Gormley, Meme CXLIII. Estimate £40,000–60,000.
    Best-known for his monumental Angel of the North, Antony Gormley’s work explores many different scales, and among his most intimate are his Memes. Begun in 2007, the Memes are compact, solid cast iron works, which, in characteristic fashion for the artist, combine formal artistic vocabulary and architectural forms to compartmentalise, distil and analyse the human condition. The series displays a range of body postures: each of the 33 individual works in the series are made up of 27 identical iron blocks in a unique configuration to provide the composition of the figure and provide a separate pose, displaying recognisable human emotional states. The series therefore represents both a geometric game, exploring a number of possibilities through reconfiguration, and also an investigation into humanity.
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