Cloaked Figure IX by Lynn Chadwick, installed high on the steps of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion since 2016, has just been acquired by the Museum. Of the six existing editions of the original, the sculpture given to the MMFA is the only one in Canada.1 This magnificent work exemplifies the artist’s contribution to the emergence of a modern aesthetic in post-war Britain and has enriched an important group of 20th-century British sculptures, including works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink, examples of which are displayed nearby in the Sculpture Garden on Du Musée Avenue.
Born in 1914 in the London suburb of Barnes, Chadwick’s formal training was in architectural draftsmanship, and he started his career working for various architectural firms in the years leading up to World War II. While initially a conscientious objector, beginning in 1941 he actively participated in the war. Immediately after the war, he resumed his career, working as a designer of furniture and textiles.
Chadwick made his first foray into the fine arts in the late 1940s, creating mobiles out of wire, balsa wood, cut copper and brass, inspired by the art form Alexander Calder had invented 20 years earlier. This led to his first solo exhibition in London in 1950. Drawing on this method of construction, he soon developed his own manner of working, welding steel rods to form armatures that he filled with the industrial compound Stolit, a mixture of iron filings and plaster. While never fully concealing the sculpture’s skeletal structure, this technique gave form to the artist’s distinctive imagery of the distorted human figure that succinctly captured the anxieties of the post-war era.
These signature sculptures catapulted Chadwick to the international stage after his first participation in the Venice Biennale in 1952, and even more markedly in 1956, when he won the International Sculpture Prize. Former director of the Tate, Alan Bowness, wrote: “Chadwick has been one of the revelations of the Biennale. Quite apart from the distinguished and highly original quality of his imagination, it is the beauty and sensitivity of execution that impresses. He may make use of the ‘creative accident,’ but the very sureness of his control makes most modern sculpture look simply incompetent by the side of his work. This Biennale award marks the emergence of Lynn Chadwick as a figure of international artistic importance.”2 More accolades shortly followed, including the honour of being the first British artist to receive the Hors Concours award at the Sao Paulo Biennial, in 1957. Chadwick’s work began to be collected by such prestigious institutions as the MoMA and the Tate Gallery.
The artist’s critical success enabled him to create editioned works cast in bronze in an increasingly larger scale, and to obtain numerous prestigious public art commissions. A wonderful acknowledgment of Chadwick’s work was the major retrospective at the Tate Britain (formerly Tate Gallery), which opened just after the artist’s death in 2003. Today his sculptures are featured in public and private collections worldwide.
Created in 1978, and cast in 1989, the nearly two-metre tall Cloaked Figure IX is both a classic and majestic example of Chadwick’s synthesis of the geometric and the figurative, stemming from the archetypal form he developed earlier in the decade. The artist first conceived these sculptures in groups of male and female figures. He differentiated the females – of which our sculpture is one – not only by a more feminine silhouette, but by a triangular head, in contrast with the cubic forms of the male heads. This style imbued the sculptures with both anonymity and universality. While the dominant pyramidal and conical shapes that structure the entire cloaked figure serve to insulate the woman’s body, they also inject her with a forbidding quality. The massive, spiked geometric forms that characterize the sculpture are attenuated by the plasticity of the contours, further emphasizing this equivocalness.
The dramatic force of Cloaked Figure IX, shown to its advantage in its current installation in front of the facade of the Beaux-Arts style Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, underlines the artist’s reputation as one of the major figures of post-war British sculpture.3
- Other than the Museum, three other Canadian institutions possess monumental sculptures by Chadwick: the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and the Ontario College of Art and Design.
- Alan Bowness, “The Venice Biennale,” Observer, 24 June 1956, in Dennis Farr, Lynn Chadwick (London: Tate Publishing, 2003), p. 44.
- The author would like to thank Laurence Charlebois for her research on this work.
Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003), Cloaked Figure IX, 1978, cast 1989. Bronze, 2/6, Cast Burleighfield, Loudwater, England, 183 x 84 x 138.8 cm. MMFA, gift of the Peress family in honour of their parents, Simha and Maurice S. Peress. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley