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Exhibition celebrates 60th anniversary of the Venice Biennale

Even in the depths of an economic recession, art connoisseurs flocked to the occasional auction of fine art, specifically the art of British sculptors. At the Robert Bowman Modern selling exhibition in 2008, Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Reclining Woman’ sold for a record price of more than £4m.

This month (February) will mark the 60th anniversary of the Venice Biennale, when the works of several young British sculptors were first introduced.

Robert Bowman Modern is a showcase for the finest of the modern British sculptors including Henry Moore, Michael Ayrton, Jacob Epstein, Elizabeth Frink, Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth and Leon Underwood. The sales exhibition in February will feature some of the best creations of each, and sales prices will reportedly start at £10,000.

Arguably the most influential public sculptor of the 20th century, Henry Moore, created abstractions of organic shapes, most notably the human body. Much of Moore’s work demonstrates his admiration for primitive art, but in an original and modern style. He was the first British sculptor to receive large public commissions for his work, and over the years he became seriously wealthy, but never lived like a wealthy man. He even turned down a knighthood lest it set him apart from his fellow artists.

The artists who came along after the end of World War II had their own interpretations to offer; joining two or several figures in a single sculpture was a different form of the art that Kenneth Armitage used in some of his most famous creations such as ‘Children Playing’. Armitage won the David E. Bright Foundation Award at his one-man show in 1958 for ‘Diarchy’, and the maquette will be featured in the upcoming RBM show.

The most versatile and well-known portrait sculptor of the last century is probably Jacob Epstein; his portrait bust of Einstein is one of the highlights of the exhibition. This is probably Epstein’s most impressionistic work; Einstein posed for only three days (in 1933) for two hours each day, and left the artist with an impression of a nature “. . . of the humane, the humorous and the profound”. That impression was rendered in a sculptural impasto, with each modelling gesture clearly evident.

Leon Underwood did not get nearly as much recognition as his pupil Henry Moore, but he is considered a pivotal figure in 20th century British sculpture. His bronze creation ‘The Liar’ is another highlight of the show; it was cast by the artist himself and shows the influence of tribal culture that he garnered from trips to ancient Aztec and Mayan sites in Mexico.

Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink, two of the most outstanding female sculptors of the period, are also represented. Hepworth’s ‘Two Forms (Gemini)’ is the only sculpture executed by the artist in glass; it will be yet another highlight of the February exhibition. Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Horse and Rider’ was originally commissioned as a trophy for the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes flat race at Ascot.


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