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Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A LONDON COLLECTION
Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)

Balanced Figure

Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)
Balanced Figure
signed with initials, dated and stamped with the foundry mark 'KA 3/6/H. NOACK BERLIN' (on the lower back)
bronze with a dark brown patina
48½ x 41¾ x 21½ in. (123 x 106 x 54.6 cm.) excluding base.
Conceived in 1961.
Hermann Noack, Germany.
Private collection, Germany.
Exhibition catalogue, Kenneth Armitage, London, Marlborough Fine Art, 1962, no. 7, n.p., another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Kenneth Armitage, Bristol, Arnolfini Gallery, 1965, n. p., no. 4, another cast illustrated.
T. Woollcombe, Kenneth Armitage Life and Work, Much Hadham, 1997, pp. 59, 144, no. KA92, illustrated.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Kenneth Armitage, May 1962, no. 7, another cast exhibited.
Bristol, Arnolfini Gallery, Kenneth Armitage, June 1965, no.4, another cast exhibited.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Anne Haasjes
Anne Haasjes

Lot Essay

‘I find it most satisfying work which derives from careful study and preparation but which is fashioned in an attitude of pleasure and playfulness; or work which is supported by the artist’s accumulated experience and knowledge, adapted to the idea of the moment and carried out with the risk and tension of tight-rope walking.’ (Armitage in N. Lynton (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Kenneth Armitage, London, 1962, n.p.)

The image of man remained of central and almost exclusive concern to Armitage, who saw the world of non-figuration, in which he only occasionally explored, lacking in personal and emotional resonance. Armitage believed that within the figure he could convey a sense of monumentality and stoicism, which could at one be reminiscent of the heroics and sacrifice of man, made during the Second World War, in which he fought for six years, as well as presenting a sense of playfulness and joy. Although interested in the plasticity and structural form of the human figure, Armitage was not wholly concerned with naturalism, displacing the individuality of his figures in favour of psychological and formal cohesion. Norbert Lynton elaborates, ‘their individuality resides not in features of the face or body, nor in the single expression of individual personality, but directly in the plastic language of material, mass and volume, weight, direction, texture’(ibid.). Balanced Figure, 1961 displays this ambiguity, which was common in his work, emphasised by the lack of expression and naturalistic form. Instead there lies an emphasis on volume, weight and texture, which gained a greater significance for the artist from the 1950s onwards.

Indeed the 1950s was a prolific period for the sculptor, whose name was propelled to international heights. In only a few months he established an international reputation by catapulting onto the scene with his participation at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Six years later, he went on to represent British sculpture at the 1958 Venice Biennale where he was applauded on winning the David E. Bright Foundation Award for the best international sculptor under the age of 45. In 1953 he was awarded the Gregory Fellowship and in 1959 he left his gallery Gimpel Fils to join the newly established Marlborough Gallery. Establishing friendships with Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston, all of whom offered to find him a studio, Armitage secured a number of international connections, but it was Harry Fischer at Marlborough, who convinced of his world-wide appeal, was the man to significantly build his reputation. Armitage became one of the first artists they took on, shortly following Lucian Freud, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. It was also Fischer who introduced Armitage and Moore to the Noack bronze foundry in Berlin from where Armitage's Balanced Figure of 1961 was cast.

This new found fame and recognition granted the artist, not only the financial funding he required, but also gave him the confidence to work on larger scale pieces, experimenting with a series of new motifs and playing with the notions of mass and void. This interplay is expressed beautifully in the present work; the body leant back at a horizontal angle, with the knees bent upwards and arms resting back, so that a series of triangular spaces are created, which emphasise the relationship between openness and enclosure. By allowing for deployment of light to filter through the sculpture, Armitage brings an inner life to his work, while also unifying the piece with its surroundings. This technique was popular in the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, who frequently used apertures and hollow space to unite their work with the surrounding landscape, ensuring that it had its own solitary significance, whilst also being part of a wider conversation with nature.

The playful and innocent mood of his earlier work was to be replaced with a more powerful, tougher and less naive aesthetic. Imbued within his figures was a renewed sensation of remoteness, as if representing some ancient authority. This can be seen, in part, due to Armitage’s interest in anthropology and primitive sculpture, in which he had a particular fondness for the powerful visuals of Egyptian carvings. Regularly visiting the ethnographic section of the British Museum, Armitage studied the ancient forms, which would inform his later work. This preoccupation came to fruition when he travelled to the primeval rainforests of Venezuela, in the early 1960s, where he met and stayed with a tribe of Stone Age Indians. Jonathan Clark states that this life-long love of primitive art can be seen as an important and striking effect on his repertoire (Jonathan Clark, Kenneth Armitage: 60 years of Sculpture & Drawing, London, March - April 2001), a theory which Armitage himself supported confessing, ‘The British Museum being very near the Slade, I made a visit every week to the Egyptian Hall. The amazing amount of carving … was very exciting to see. I thought perhaps I was seeing it too much’ (Armitage in T. Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage Life and Work, Much Hadham, 1997, p. 15). The influence of the Egyptian can be clearly seen in Balanced Figure, which possesses a monolithic character, whilst also conveying a sense of mummification through the eradication of facial features and physical characteristics. Modelled in plaster to create a more stone-like effect, Armitage creates a textured structure, whose scratch-like marks allows the light to refract and glisten over the warm patina of the female form. The relaxed posture of his female, who carelessly lays backwards, her legs unconsciously raised, gives the work a feeling of display and exhibition; her grand and epic proportions reminiscent of primitive ancient carvings, while her monumental stature grants a timeless and classic appeal to the work.

Highlighted by the title ‘Balanced Figure’ Armitage draws our attention to the equilibrium and poise of the work. What resonates most clearly is a sense of balance, not only in maintaining the horizontal angle in which she sits, but also in the harmony that is instilled within the work, achieved through the careful juxtaposition of mass and void and the subtle dialogue between hard, angular lines and soft mass. This mature handling of the human form can be seen to relate to the developments in architecture, in particular the bold inventiveness of Post-War Italian art, in which Armitage found particular inspiration. One of the architectural designs, which spoke most strongly to him was Brunel’s Suspension bridge at Clifton, Bristol. This new-found focus on balance was emphasised by Armitage who stated in 1960, a year before creating Balanced Figure, 'I am very interested in balance, because of the fact that we all take part in a kind of game within the field of gravity. In Bristol I was excited about seeing the Suspension Bridge. I suddenly realised that the bridge was not old in spirit, though it was in fact old. It made me curious. I became, for the first time, interested in structure. Most of us spend our day vertically on our feet and at night we rest horizontally. We live in a world of verticals and horizontals. These are the directions we see all the time in our houses and cities and towns as we walk about. Although it is mainly for movement, it is also for this reason that I sometimes like to make figures, my sculptures, on a slant, so that they run across this rather rigid pattern' (N. Lynton, ibid.).

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