The 1950s were a breakthrough decade for Chadwick. In 1952, following two significant commissions exhibited the previous year as part of the Festival of Britain, and the completion of The Fisheater, a magnificent 7 ½ foot high iron and copper mobile bought by the Arts Council, Chadwick was chosen to exhibit at the 26th Venice Biennale as part of New Aspects of British Sculpture alongside Robert Adams, Reg Butler, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull and Kenneth Armitage. In his introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition Herbert Read, a great admirer of C.G. Jung, asserted that: ‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, of ragged claws… of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear’ (H. Read, exhibition catalogue, New Aspects of British Sculpture, 1952). By 1958, the year in which Maquette for Male Winged Figure was completed, the phrase the ‘geometry of fear’, a somewhat hackneyed critical cliché, no longer seemed relevant to Chadwick’s contemporary output. Admitting that ‘“fear” is no longer an appropriate word’, Read identified instead the existence of ‘a demonic force … pent up in the unconscious’ which, he asserted, it was within the artist’s power to transform into ‘symbolic icons’ of universal significance (indeed, the power of his ‘symbolic icons’ meant that, in 1956, Chadwick had been awarded the International Prize for Sculpture at the 28th Venice Biennale). Maquette for Male Winged Figure is of a monumental aesthetic import, well able to bear the weight of such universal significance, the figure’s emphatically wide set legs, armoured torso and intimidating wingspan combined symbolise strength, resilience and intransigence.
By 1954, Chadwick’s idiosyncratic vocabulary of welded iron shapes had been transformed by his discovery of a new method for construction using Stolit, an industrial stone compound of gypsum and iron powder which was applied wet like plaster and on drying could be worked, chased and coloured, or more usually left to weather, as with Maquette for Male Winged Figure. An elaborate web of welded rods which form geometric units joined together to express the figure’s frame, planes and contours, the whole supported on two tapered forged legs, was filled with Stolit, setting glass-hard. The iron armatures rust and expand on contact with the moisture absorbed by the compound, so that straight profiles become subtly curved with the passage of time. Suggestive of a skeletal prehistoric creature, the evocative, ribbed effect produced by this method, unique to Chadwick, lends Maquette for Male Winged Figure the appearance and haptic qualities of a fossil. While the figure’s heads are reduced to two vestigial spikes, the truncated, square wing on the left is compensated for by the elongated webbed right hand wing. Static and yet with the potential for flight, the theme of the winged figure/figures was to provide Chadwick with a fruitful source for numerous sculptures over the next decade or so including Stranger III, a model for a memorial designed to commemorate the successful double crossing of the Atlantic by the airship R34 in July 1919, commissioned by the Air League of the British Empire. The result of a significantly transitional moment in Chadwick’s career, Maquette for Male Winged Figure indicates a shift in his work away from the dancing figure groups, presaging too his subsequent preoccupation with the stillness of his standing and seated figures from the 1960s onwards.