Created in 1988—the year of the artist’s triumphant return to the Venice Biennale, where he had risen to stardom some three decades earlier—High Wind II is a striking large-scale sculpture by Lynn Chadwick. A female figure strides forward, with the wind at her back. Her long hair blows horizontally in front of her face, and her skirt flies out before her like a pair of wings. Cast in bronze, the sculpture’s angular, roughly faceted structure is typical of Chadwick’s work. She exemplifies the dynamic naturalism of his 1980s period, which saw his more totemic early style give way to a whimsical formal play with billowing drapery and bodies in motion. The contrast between the steadfast, enigmatic figure and her windswept disarray conjures a gentle physical humour that is an often-overlooked aspect of Chadwick’s practice. The present work was formerly installed on the artist’s Lypiatt Park estate in Gloucestershire, where he lived and worked for more than four decades; another example is held in the Museum of Himeji, Japan.
Chadwick has always been intrigued by movement, either actual or implied, in his sculpture. From his early mobiles to his dancing Teddy Boy and Girl series of the 1950s to his cloaked walking women with windswept hair of the 1980s, he has explored figures in motion”
Chadwick, who had trained as an architectural draughtsman in the 1930s, brought a keen understanding of line and balance to his work. First making mobile-like structures in the late 1940s, he gradually refined a welded assemblage technique that resulted in swooping, complex forms of kinetic metal: The Fisheater, commissioned for the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951 and today held in the Tate Gallery, is a masterpiece of his early style. The following year, he was invited alongside artists including Eduardo Paolozzi, Reg Butler and Geoffrey Clarke to show his work at the British Pavilion in the 26th Venice Biennale. It was a watershed moment for British sculpture. While diverse in their approaches, these sculptors’ spiny, linear works signalled an alarming departure from the solid forms of their modernist forebear Henry Moore, and seemed to capture the existential zeitgeist of the postwar years. Coining the famous phrase ‘the geometry of fear’, the curator Herbert Read declared that ‘Their art is close to the nerves, nervous, wiry. They have found metal, in sheet, strip or wire rather than in mass, their favourite medium’ (H. Read, ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’, in The XXVI Biennale, Venice: The British Pavilion, exh. cat. British Council, London 1952, n.p.). Amid rising acclaim, Chadwick returned to the Biennale in 1956, where he became the youngest sculptor ever to be awarded the International Prize for Sculpture.
His aim is to incorporate a moment of maximum intensity, and this he does by the most direct means—the reduction of bodily attitudes to their magnetic lines of force”
Chadwick continued to develop his forceful, reductive figurative mode over the following decades, unconcerned by shifting fashions that saw Pop, Minimalism and abstract sculpture rise to greater critical attention. A variety of animal and human figures, including tensely crouched beasts and armless men and women with geometric, pyramidal heads, became instantly recognisable icons of his practice. Working on an ever more monumental scale, he first deployed flowing fabric in the large bronze Pair of Walking Figures—Jubilee (1977), who strut forward with cloaks billowing behind them; he went on to explore the effects of wind for much of the following decade. High Wind II, with her silhouette struck into gale-force extremity, is among the most powerful of these late works. Touching the ground at four points with her legs and blown-out skirt, the figure showcases Chadwick’s ongoing structural ingenuity, while her sense of movement harks back to his earliest interest in mobile sculpture.
Lot Essay Header Image: The present lot.