Catalogue entry

T03809 ANGEL OF ANARCHY 1936–40

Fabric over plaster and mixed media 20 1/2 × 12 1/2 × 13 1/4 (520 × 317 × 336)
Inscribed ‘AGAR/ANGEL OF ANARCHY’ on back of neck
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Exh: Eileen Agar, Retrospective Exhibition, Commonwealth Art Gallery, September–October 1971 (18); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1978 (14.3, repr.); Weich und Plastich, Soft-Art, Kunsthaus, Zurich, November 1979–February 1980 (repr. p.77); British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, part 1, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–November 1981 (177, repr.); The Women's Art Show, 1550–1970, Castle Museum, Nottingham, May–August 1982 (83, repr. in col.); Milestones in Modern British Sculpture, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, October–November 1982 (10); La planète affolée. Surréalisme, dispersion et influences, 1938–1947, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseilles, April–June 1986 (1, repr. in col. p.170)
Lit: Paul Nash, ‘Artists and their work - 4. Surrealism: Objects and Pictures’, BBC television, 21 January 1938; Anna Gruetzner, ‘The Surrealist Object and Surrealist Sculpture’, British Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1981, pp.113–23 (repr. p.115); Penny McGuire, ‘Surreal Life Legend’, Observer Magazine, 20 November 1983, pp.20–5 (repr. p.21); Frances Spalding, British Art Since 1900, 1986, p.117 (repr. p.119).
Also repr: Du, 1983, 1, p.53

This head is a second and quite different version of a sculpture of the same title which was made by Eileen Agar in 1934–6 and lost shortly afterwards, never being returned from an exhibition in Amsterdam in June 1938.

The lost first version was reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalogue Surrealist Objects and Poems, London Gallery, November 1937 (photographed by the artist) where it was first exhibited. It is listed there in the section titled ‘Surrealist Objects’ as ‘Angel of Anarchy’, along with three other works by Agar. It is a plaster head of a man, with coloured paper and paper doilies, green feathers and black Astrakhan fur attached to it, not painted except on the lips. This head Agar made in the first place in clay, at her studio in Earl's Court, as a portrait of Joseph Bard (her future husband). Bard, a Hungarian and a poet, had been editor of the art magazine The Island (1931–2), which was financed by Agar and organised by pupils of Leon Underwood at his school in Brook Green, which both she and Bard attended for drawing. Underwood had already modelled a portrait head of Bard, and Agar felt that she could improve on it. Her sculpture was made from sittings with the model, and is severely geometrical.

Agar sent her clay to be cast in plaster, and received two copies, one of which she then covered with ‘whatever came to hand’ (conversation of 18 May 1984), in part in order to hide its whiteness. This was the first sculpture she had made, although she had been in contact with modern sculptors since visiting Brancusi's studio in Paris in 1930, and she had bought a carving by Henry Moore in about 1932. She did not know Surrealist artists personally before the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in June 1936, and was invited to show in this by Herbert Read. She exhibited there three paintings and five ‘objects’, the latter now only known by title. Following this exhibition she made both the first version of ‘Angel of Anarchy’ and another dressed up head ‘Rococo Cocotte’ (repr. Anna Greutzner, op.cit., p.117), although in this the head itself was not made by the artist. At the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Robert, Amsterdam (June 1938) the former was listed as ‘L'ange de l'anarchie (1934–1936)’.

The first version retained its character as a portrait of Joseph Bard, but was associated by Agar in its title with Herbert Read, the critic who had been one of the organisers of both the 1936 and 1937 Surrealist exhibitions in London:

... the title was suggested by the fact that Herbert Read was known to the Surrealists as a benign anarchist, so that is how I thought of the title ‘Angel of Anarchy’, for anarchy was in the air in the late thirties (note from the artist, 18 May 1984).

The title was invented after the work was made, and partly by chance, as Agar recalled hearing some builders in the studio mentioning the wood ‘Archangel pine’, while she was thinking what to call it.

At the start of the war it was evident that the sculpture would not be returned from Amsterdam:

so in 1940 I started covering the second plaster head (now in the Tate). This one I decided should be totally different, more astonishing, powerful (and forgetting about a portrait) more malign. Although the same base it has ostrich feathers for the hair, a Chinese silk blindfold, a piece of bark cloth round the neck and African beads at the back of the head, as well as occasional osprey feathers and a diamanté nose (note of 18 May 1986).

The African tapa cloth and the bead fringe were bought for this purpose in antique shops, and most of the other materials were supplied from Agar's mother's wardrobe.

The head was stored by the artist and not retrieved until William Seitz, the curator of ‘The Art of Assemblage’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1961) enquired for her pre-war sculpture and collages.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986