One of the leading sculptors in Britain after World War II, Lynn Chadwick (born 1914) is well known for both abstract and figurative works that embodied the tensions of the post-war era. His precariously balanced, spiky, insect-like figures and more monumental geometric works have brought him international renown as a successor to Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
Like many of his contemporaries, Chadwick followed a relatively indirect path to sculpture. He was born in London in 1914, the son of Verner Russell Chadwick, an engineer, and the former Marjorie Brown Lynn. He attended the Merchant Taylor's School in London, where his mentor K. P. F. Brown taught him oil and watercolor painting. Though his family appreciated the arts and had artist friends, they dissuaded Chadwick from pursuing formal training in sculpting, pointing out the difficulty of making a living through the arts in Depression-era England. In 1933 Chadwick began training as a draftsman and joined the firm of Rodney Thomas in 1937.
During World War II, Chadwick volunteered in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and was sent to the United States and Toronto for training. In Canada, he met his first wife, Ann Secord, whom he married in 1942. Chadwick was commissioned as a pilot and flew missions over the North Atlantic protecting convoys from submarine attacks. Some critics have speculated that Chadwick's wartime flying experience fueled his interest in the movement of forms in space-which would become a repeated theme in his work-and imbued his early sculptures with their characteristic anxiety.
Back in London after the war, Chadwick began to design textiles, furniture, and exhibition stands in addition to his drafting work. In March, 1946 he won a textile design prize sponsored by Zika and Lida Ascher, which brought him enough small commissions for him to quit his architectural job and work independently. He moved his family from London to Fisher's College, near Edge, Stroud, and a year later moved to Pinswell, near Cheltenham.
Began with Mobiles
Chadwick's first sculptures were mobile constructions of balsa and aluminum wire, designed primarily for exhibition stands. They incorporated elongated fish-like or wing-like shapes, which led many critics to conclude that Chadwick was influenced by the mobiles of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Chadwick, however, insists he had not yet seen Calder's work when he began constructing his own mobiles, but was intrigued by his colleague Rodney Thomas's constructions of thin balanced shapes.
Interest in Chadwick's work grew, and in June, 1950, Gimpel Fils in London gave him his first one-man show. The British Council liked the exhibition so much that they commissioned three mobiles for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and Chadwick received other large commissions as well. In order to create larger sculptures, though, Chadwick had to learn new techniques. He studied welding at the British Oxygen Company's Welding School in Cricklewood during the summer of 1950, and then began executing large pieces such as his iron and copper mobile Fisheater (1951) and the iron mobile Dragonfly (1951). With these works, Chadwick began to explore more overtly animalistic subjects, which he developed over the next several years in solid sculptures suggesting weird birds, insects, or beasts.
"The Geometry of Fear"
Chadwick entered the international limelight when the British Council invited him to contribute four pieces to the Venice Biennale in 1952. Critics were tremendously impressed with the show, which showcased the vitality of British sculpture and also included Armitage, Butler, Paolozzi, and Turnbull. Art critic Herbert Read, in his Exhibition of Works, pointing out that these artists had moved away from the classical serenity of earlier times, commented that "These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance" and created a "geometry of fear." But Read also acknowledged a playful element in Chadwick's work that coexisted with its more disturbing subconscious allusions. In the welded iron Barley Fork (1952), for example, the spiky tines of the fork grip two smaller, sharp pieces reminiscent of an animal trap-an image both menacing and witty. Chadwick is always concerned with geometry and tension in a work and he strives to invest his pieces with a vital quality.
In 1953, Chadwick entered the International Sculpture Competition on the theme of "The Unknown Political Prisoner" organized by the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London. His entry, a welded iron maquette (a small model from which a sculpture is elaborated) suggested a harsh, geometric enclosure of attached triangular shapes. The work received an honorable mention, which prompted Chadwick to concentrate more seriously on solid sculpture.
Always interested in technical innovations, Chadwick began experimenting with a new casting technique in 1953. He constructed elaborate armatures, or frames, of multiple welded iron rods over which he applied an artificial stone compound of gypsum and iron powder called "Stolit." When this dried, it could be worked or left to weather. One of the first pieces made with this process was Ideomorphic Beast (1953), an angular, bat-like figure which displays a peculiarly fossilized quality in the rough surface that fills in the complex frame. Though this new process was time consuming and made it impossible to make multiple copies of a piece, Chadwick enjoyed the fresh possibilities that the approach offered. Fascinated by pure abstract shapes, he found that his new casting method enabled him to start with such forms and then add on the quirkier elements-legs, beaks, wings-that so interested him.
By the mid-1950s, Chadwick's reputation was at its peak. His work was being bought by private collectors and by leading museums throughout the world. In 1955 his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art's "The New Decade" show, and the next year he was given his own exhibition room at the Venice Biennale. He showed 19 pieces completed between 1951 and 1956, including The Inner Eye (1952), an iron and glass sculpture in which clawlike spikes grip a chunk of crystal within an iron ribcage, Ideomorphic Beast, and the iron and Stolit The Seasons (1955), a piece that symbolizes the conflict between new birth and decay by the juxtaposition of a gnarled bare tree form with a bold triangular shape. At Venice, Chadwick was awarded the International Prize for Sculpture, becoming, at age 41, the youngest major prize recipient since World War II. Many in the art world were shocked at Chadwick's selection, having assumed that Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) would win. Though Chadwick felt his prize did not affect his relations with fellow sculptors, it may have alienated critics who had favored Giacometti, especially among the British art establishment.
By this time, distinct aspects of Chadwick's work were evident. In addition to more abstract, allusive pieces like The Inner Eye, he was developing his interest in paired structures through the exploration of dancing figures and coupled forms. Teddy Boy and Girl (1955), a bronze, contains both abstract and naturalistic elements. The piece achieves a formal tension by the juxtaposition of two strongly contrasting shapes, one male and one female. Although the geometric shapes are abstracted, the sculpture also suggests the curvature and volume of human bodies. Winged Figures (1955), a bronze comprising two standing forms, continues Chadwick's move toward less aggressive imagery and his interest in the relationship between multiple figures in space.
In 1957 Chadwick was invited to create a memorial to commemorate the successful double crossing of the Atlantic in 1919 by the airship R34, to be placed at London's Heath-row Airport. Chadwick again used the theme of the double, creating a two-headed winged figure, with one face looking in each direction. Later, he modified the wings into a more truncated, blockish shape which implies both movement and solidity. Though the memorial committee approved the design, it was strongly opposed by the Guild of Air Pilots and was ultimately rejected. Chadwick later cast the bronze figure Stranger III (1959) in an edition of four.
After Stranger III, Chadwick began to explore the spatial possibilities of three-part groups in works like The Watchers (1960), a bronze group of three upright figures with geometric bodies perched on spindly legs. By the early 1970s he sometimes experimented with groups of four, five, or six male and female figures. He also moved away from the rougher surfaces of his early work, experimenting with highly polished surfaces in pieces such as his Elektras, a series of bronze female figures in which sections of torsos or heads are polished to a mirror smoothness.
Eclipsed by New Generation
In 1964, Chadwick was made a Companion of the British Empire, but his career had already begun to wane. New movements such as pop art, minimalism, and conceptual and performance art attracted attention while Chadwick's work was neglected. Though he continued to exhibit widely in Europe, he rarely showed new work in Britain until 1974, when Marlborough Fine Arts gallery held the first London exhibition of Chadwick's work in eight years. Critics were disappointed, judging that Chadwick's work had lost its impetus. One observed that the anxiety and tension found in Chadwick's early skeletal pieces had been weakened in the use of smoother surfaces and less aggressive imagery. Another found Chadwick's use of pyramid shapes to be stale, merely stylized rather than dynamic. Four years later, the Marlborough mounted another Chadwick show at which critical response was similar. Though some pieces-notably the three bronze works Three Sitting Watchers (1975), Pair of Walking Figures-Jubilee (1977), and Cloaked Figure IX (1978)-were praised as forceful, mythic images, others were faulted for using abstraction as a decorative rather than integral element. Charles Spencer, writing for Contemporary Artists, asserted that even into the 1990s, Chadwick's work "has shown little development … formulas of pyramid shapes or wingspans have now been reduced to anecdotal, almost sentimental symbols; seated couples, walking figures, or standing forms, reminiscent of the gentler imagery of his contemporary, Kenneth Armitage."
Through the 1970s, Chadwick continued his exploration of paired groups, working with the theme of the cloaked couple or single figure. This image allowed Chadwick to suggest the movement of wind through hair or drapery-possibilities that continued to interest him for the next decade. Earlier pieces dealing with this theme emphasize semi-abstracted fan or wing-like shapes swirling out behind angular figures, while the bronze High Wind (1984) demonstrates in the subtle modeling of the female figure a more naturalistic approach.
Much of Chadwick's work is in the collections of major museums throughout the world, including the Tate Gallery, London; National Museum of Wales; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Musee Nationale d'Art Moderne, Paris; Peggy Guggenheim Collection (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation), Venice; Galleria Nazionale d-Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC. Several of Chadwick's pieces are also owned by private collectors.
Chadwick's first marriage, which produced one son, ended in divorce. In 1959, he married Frances Mary Jamieson, with whom he had two daughters before her death in 1964. The following year he married photograher Eva Reiner; they have one son. Since 1958, Chadwick has lived at Lypiatt Park, an old estate in Gloucestershire, which the artist has restored over the years.
Further Reading on Lynn Russell Chadwick
Arnason. H. H. History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, third edition, Prentice-Hall, 1986.
Bowness, Alan, Lynn Chadwick, Art in Progress, Methuen, London, 1962.
Contemporary Artists, Fourth edition, St. James Press, 1996.
Farr, Dennis and Chadwick, Eva, Lynn Chadwick, Sculptor, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Read, Herbert, "New Aspects of British Sculpture," Exhibition of Works by Sutherland, Wadsworth; Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke Turnbull, XXXVI Biennale, Venice, 1952.
Seuphor, Michel, The Sculpture of This Century, George Braziller, Inc, 1960.
Tamplin, Ronald, editor, The Arts: A History of Expression in the 20th Century, Oxford University Press, 1991.
Chadwick, Lynn, "A Sculptor and His Public," The Listener, October 20, 1954, p. 671.
British Contemporary Sculpture/Lynn Chadwick, http://www.sculpture.org.uk/biography/chadwick.html