Published  21/07/2012

Obituary: Lynn Chadwick

Obituary: Lynn Chadwick

Lynn Chadwick died on 25 April 2003, aged 88. With Eduardo Paolozzi and Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick played a major role in establishing British post-war sculpture on the world stage. Chadwick himself first achieved major renown at the relatively young age of 41, by winning the International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1956. To convey the trailblazing importance of this achievement, one has to be reminded that his competition included not only Giacometti but also César. John Russell describes Chadwick's 'Inner Eye' (1952) — later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York — as '…one of the key pieces of the early l950s anywhere in the world'. Chadwick trained as an architectural draughtsman in the l930s, and his dedicated renovation of the gothic Lypiatt Park provided an entirely compatible home for many of his angular, thin-legged, sculptural beasts. In Private View (from which John Russell's comment is borrowed, l965) there is a sublimely evocative Lord Snowdon photograph, showing Chadwick and a Jamieson daughter reclining on a white stove-carrying platform, that commemorates those relatively carefree post-Venice days.

Chadwick had been born in late l914, a member of the displaced generation that were children in the First World War, and sucked into the chasm of the Second. He flew as a Fleet Air Arm pilot on Atlantic Convoy duties and then returned to architectural practice with Rodney Thomas. For Chadwick, a surprisingly late discovery was the work of the American, Alexander Calder. Work thus inspired caught the eye of the Gimpel Fils Gallery who in l950 included him in a first mixed show. Following this, Chadwick received an important commission for the l954 'Festival of Britain' programme, and also a major commission for the Battersea Park open-air sculpture competition in the same year. These were massive works on an intimidating, if not monumental, scale. Through the l960s and beyond Chadwick, now a master of the large scale welded iron composite technique, found a steady flow of commissions, mostly overseas. Like Paolozzi, Chadwick also developed a skill in welding together found metal objects, as 'ready-mades'. But in scale, Chadwick's work seemed always at its best in outdoor locations and Chadwick even established his own sculpture park at Lypiatt.

Chadwick was essentially a self-reliant and self-generating individual and these qualities would sustain him in the difficult fallow years that intervened between those major commissions. When the Venice Biennale invited him to create the iconic male and female for the 1988 event, Chadwick called his work 'Back to Venice'. Always philosophical about the vagaries of public taste, Chadwick was finally rewarded with plans for an exhibition of some 30 of his works in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain this September. For once, the timing has been perfect but sadly he won't be there.

Looking back, it is reassuring to realise how an artist may take just such a long view of posterity, recognising that the cycles of public approbation ensure a predictable rallying of critical and public acclaim. There was too much great Chadwick for that not to happen.

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