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

Sprawling Woman

Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)
Sprawling Woman
stamped with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris' (at the base)
bronze with a brown patina
101 in. (256.5 cm.) long
Executed in 1957, this work is unique.
with David Hughes Gallery, London.
with Weintraub Gallery, New York.
Private collection, South America.
Exhibition catalogue, Postwar British Sculpture, Caracas, Galeria Freites, 2006, no. 4, illustrated.
N. Lynton, Kenneth Armitage, London, 1962, pl. 15.
T. Woolcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage: Life and Work, London, 1997, pp. 43, 144, no. KA81, illustrated.
J. Scott and C. Milburn, The Sculpture of Kenneth Armitage, London, 2016, pp. 42, 47, 49, 114, pl. 78.
Venice, XXIX Venice Biennale, British Pavilion, 'Kenneth Armitage, S.W. Hayter, William Scott', 1958, no. 89.
Paris, British Council, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Kenneth Armitage, S.W. Hayter, William Scott, November - December, 1958, no. 31: this exhibition travelled to Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, January - February 1959; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, March 1959; and Zürich, Kunsthaus, April - May 1959.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kenneth Armitage, A Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture based upon the XXIX Venice Biennale of 1958, July - August 1959, no. 42.
Caracas, Galeria Freites, Postwar British Sculpture, August - September 2006, no. 4.
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Lot Essay

'Armitage is an expressionist: a degothicised Barlach, moving, in his latest work, towards a sardonic commentary on the stretched agony of human relationships, a master of the superficial intricacies of cast bronze' (Herbert Read)

Executed in 1957, Sprawling Woman was conceived during Kenneth Armitage’s most creative and productive period. Having found international recognition through the 1952 Venice Biennale, Armitage was awarded the Gregory Fellowship in Sculpture at Leeds University in 1953. Freed up from fulltime teaching at the Bath Academy in Corsham, Armitage was able to concentrate on the development of his on his own sculptural ideas. His works from the early 1950s typically combined two or more figures in which the arms, legs and pole like heads protrude from a flattened membrane like body mass. “Their walks, their games, their dances, their common interests and their loves cement them together so that the group becomes a single multiple figure' (N. Lynton, Kenneth Armitage, London, 1962).

These almost screen-like assemblages were born out of a desire to represent the underlying structural form of the figure individually and increasingly within a group. Works such as People in a Wind (1951) and Children Playing (1953) are at once physical constructions and emotionally charged representations. The four organic figures of People in a Wind struggle forward, their progression is slow and methodical, yet determined. Out of the collective agony comes the dignity of toil. By contrast Children Playing has a joyous weightlessness however the relationship between the individuals within both sculptures is a positive one. There is a strength that derives from the individuals coming together rather than the threatening anonymity of the crowd.

In the mid 1950s Armitage started to move away from such structural concerns as he became interested in the mass, weight and texture of sculpture. The stretched membranes over supporting structures gave way to swelling forms. The vertical and horizontal arms and legs remained, however they were no longer the architectural supports for the work, rather appendages giving movement and drama to the solid body of the sculpture.

'Gravity stiffens this world we can touch and see with the verticals and horizontals – the movement of water, railways and even roads, our canals following the 300 ft. contour, architecture and engineering. We walk vertically and rest horizontally, and it is not easy to forget North, South, East, and West and up and down' (K. Armitage, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Kenneth Armitage, A Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture based on the XXIX Venice Biennale of 1958, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, p. 9.).

As Armitage looked to create a dialogue between the human figure and the world around him he became more concerned with the mass and volume of his work and how this was affected by the surrounding environment. The individual figure returned to Armitage’s work, as he explored these essential laws of nature, governed by gravity, aligned to the vertical and horizontal.

In 1958 Armitage was invited by the British Council, with William Scott and S.W. Hayter, to exhibit at the XXIX Venice Biennale where he was awarded the David E. Bright Foundation Award for the best sculptor under 45. Sprawling Woman was exhibited at the Biennale and was one of the most ambitious pieces that Armitage had undertaken at this time. The sculpture explores these dichotomies of the vertical and horizontal. The legs and arms stretch, taught and desperate from the body. Flailing hopelessly in the air as the female figure sprawls ignominiously on the ground. We feel the stiffening of gravity as Armitage explores the transition between walking and resting, the vertical and the horizontal. However her state is ambiguous as are our feelings towards her. She seems simultaneously desperate and euphoric, helpless and empowered. Sprawling Woman, by the very title given, is a sculpture in transition. She stands and lies. She is tragic and comical. Indeed Armitage said, 'I find most satisfying work which derives from careful study and preparation but which is fashioned in an attitude of pleasure and playfulness' (K. Armitage, quoted, N. Lynton, Kenneth Armitage, London, 1962).

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