Robert Adams 1917-1984
1949 and 1951
Yew 1000 x 2300 x 230 (39 3/8 x 9 1/16 x 9 1/16) excluding separate base
Purchased from New Art Centre (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Frederick Woodford 1952; sold Sotheby's 3 Nov. 1982 (167) bt New Art Centre
Exh: Robert Adams, Gimpel Fils, April 1949 (12 as ‘Figure, yew, 3 ft 2 1/2 in'); 4ème Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Palais des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, July-Aug. 1949 (either 6 ‘Figure No.1' or 7 ‘Figure No.2'); London Group Exhibition, Contemporary Drawing Painting Sculpture, New Burlington Galleries, Dec.1949-Jan.1950 (276); London-Paris, New Trends in Painting & Sculpture, ICA, New Burlington Galleries, March-April 1950 (57); Sculpture in the Home, 2nd exhibition, AC, New Burlington Galleries, Aug.-Sept. 1950, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oct.-Nov. 1950, Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, Nov.-Dec. 1950, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, Dec. 1950, City Art Gallery, Bristol, Jan. 1951, Art Gallery, Southampton, Feb. 1951, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, March-April 1951, The Art Gallery, Scarborough, April-May 1951, Royal Polytechnic Hall, Falmouth, May-June 1951, Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, June-July 1951, Scottish Lyceum Gallery, Edinburgh, July-Aug. 1951, (2, repr. pl.2); Robert Adams, Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture, Painting & Drawings, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, April-May 1961, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, May-June 1961 (5); British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, part 1, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Sept.-Nov. 1981 (145)
Lit: John Anthony Thwaites, ‘Notes on some young English sculptors', Art Quarterly, vol.15 autumn 1952, p.237, repr. p.239
The yew is cut from a single piece and has two colours with a darker heart wood. The circular base is a separate piece of a different wood, and the sculpture is shown without it in the photograph published in Art Quarterly
in 1952. This photograph was probably taken on 18 March 1949 (information from the artist's records, given by Alastair Grieve, 10 October 1987), soon after it was finished, and shows it before it was accidentally damaged in 1951. At the head of the figure there was originally an extension of the horizontal shape that curved back in a semicircle, almost to meet the vertical piece with the eye. This was broken off while the sculpture still belonged to the artist, and was on loan at the Arts Council's ‘Sculpture in the Home' exhibition that year.
Frederick Woodford, who knew Adams well and later bought the sculpture, wrote that after it was damaged Adams
had looked at it for some time wondering what could be done with it, and came to the conclusion that he could alter the conception of the figure by re-cutting the top, making the whole figure more acceptable to him as it was a slightly more ‘abstract' figure (letter to the compiler of 12 Nov. 1987).
There are a number of drawings and sculptures by Adams that are similar to this ‘Figure', but none have been identified that are specific studies either for or after it. A drawing dated 1948 (ink on paper, estate of Mrs Pat Adams) shows three studies for standing figures, each brushed in bold outline shapes, and one of them is very similar to the ‘figure' but has a closed oval head. An undated drawing in the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 84/21) is comparable, and was made beside sketches of a standing female nude drawn similarly.
Adams's ‘Opus Book' (Gimpel Fils) records a complete catalogue of his sculpture of this period, and lists this ‘Figure' as 49/1, the first sculpture of the year. The opposite page in the book, originally blank, has a rough sketch of a similar sculpture, probably not drawn by the artist, titled ‘49/1 bis', the purpose of which is not known.
At the 1949 exhibition at Gimpel Fils, his second there, Adams showed work in plaster, cement and carved stone, as well as wood, and the bath stone ‘Figure' (11, 470 (18 1/2) high) illustrated in the catalogue uses an accumulation of rod and disk shapes similar to those in the Tate Gallery's wooden figure. Later in the year he made his first sculptures in metal.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.85-6