Lynn Chadwick's Sitting Couple on Bench is a monumental work conceived in 1990, during a period when he tapped into a new vein of inspiration and creativity, largely prompted by his re-discovered use of welded steel as a medium. While Sitting Couple on Bench is cast in bronze, it is based on a welded steel sculpture of the same title originally made in 1990, only two years after he had turned to this medium. Here, though, the gleaming surface of the stainless steel which had first caught Chadwick's eye when he had seen a sculpture made of that material in Miami has been replaced by the more varied, textured patina of bronze. Chadwick himself was aware that bronze was essentially the traditional medium for sculptures in metal; here, he has managed to explore its versatility while retaining the crisp linearity that underpinned the welded steel version. In this way, Chadwick has created a sculpture which, while superficially conveying some adherence to the canon of sculpture throughout the ages, tapping into a visual vocabulary that stretches back to the ancient Greeks and beyond, nonetheless introduces a searing sense of modernity.
The interplay with materials present in this work has yet another layer: the 1988 sculpture of Sitting Couple on Bench made in welded steel appears related to another bronze, Seated Couple, of 1989-90, in which the contours of the bodies of the two figures have more modulation and modelling. These have been deliberately exorcised in Sitting Couple on Bench, which takes advantage of the planar nature of the sheets of steel that originally formed the composition in order to introduce a visceral angularity. This marks a return to the geometric character of Chadwick's works which had long been a touchstone in his career. Indeed, decades earlier, discussing the menacing figures that Chadwick had formerly created, Herbert Read had referred to his sculptures with the phrase, 'the geometry of fear.' Here, there is no sense of fear: despite the jutting quality that has been used to render the figures, there is a tender intimacy between them, as well as an almost naturalistic, keenly-observed attention to poise that results in a composition that is intimate, nuanced and engaging. Looking at this stately couple, with the two figures filled with character despite their being reduced to near-abstracted forms, it becomes clear why Chadwick was often seen as an heir to Henry Moore, whose own works explored similar territory, albeit through a more organic-seeming idiom.
In order to create his welded steel sculptures such as the one upon which Sitting Couple on Bench was based, Chadwick turned to professionals in order to cut the plates to the correct dimensions, and also to weld them together. While he was an accomplished welder in his own right - indeed, he had long been celebrated for his bold, innovative and direct approach to sculpture and its manufacture - the techniques required in assembling plates such as these together was complex and required professionals. Instead, Chadwick essentially drew the designs for these sculptures in three dimensions, as he thought of it, by welding rods together, creating a maquette that could then be used as a design for the finished sculpture.
Chadwick's experiences with stainless steel - and indeed with the complexities and complications of its use - dated back to the early 1960s. Then, a little over half a decade after winning the international prize for sculpture at the 1956 Venice Biennale - beating Alberto Giacometti, who had presented his celebrated Femmes de Venise - Chadwick was invited to Genoa, where he worked with an Italian steel manufacturer called Italsider. Chadwick was there alongside two American sculptors of the same period, David Smith and Alexander Calder, and worked a great deal with the former. Of this period, Chadwick would recall:
'David Smith was housed in an old disused factory, which made, basically, screws, all kinds of screws, all kinds. And I was put into the steel plate works, where they made steel plate. That is to say, they'd get a really large piece of steel about three, two metres long, by about one metre wide, and about 20, 30 cms. thick, almost. A great big thing. It comes in from the furnace outside, hot, but it's already black, and then they put this thing through the rolling mills. It's quite extraordinary, because this great big lump keeps its heat, and they roll it up and down until it becomes sheet, any thickness you like... Sheet steel, that's what I was given. What am I going to do with sheet steel?' (Chadwick, quoted in Cathy Courtney, 'Lynn Chadwick', oral interview, 1995, National Life Stories: Artists' Lives, reproduced at sounds.bl.uk).
Chadwick's original solution, realised by the workers of Italsider, was a group of winged figures, similar to those he had previously been making, but now granted a new, thrusting, machine-like angularity. It was to this same appearance that Chadwick returned in the late 1980s, adding new dimensions to the creative process in order to create works such as Sitting Couple on Bench.