In 1957 the Air League of the British Empire commissioned Chadwick to produce a memorial to commemorate the successful two-way crossing of the Atlantic in July 1919 by the airship R34. This was intended for the Long Haul Terminal at Heathrow (then London Airport) designed by the architect Sir Frederick Gibberd (1904–84). Chadwick created a small iron and plaster maquette, from which a bronze edition of nine was established in 1958. The edition includes two artist’s proofs and this recent ‘hors commerce’ cast.
Maquette for R34 Memorial neatly fuses two images: a near-abstract, two-headed figure standing firmly balanced on thin human legs, and the silhouette of an aeroplane. It is designed to be viewed frontally, for it is virtually flat and its slight bulk tapers to a point at the end of the wings when seen from above. Each head points outwards in an opposing direction towards the wings, symbolizing the journey to and from America, and keeping the whole sculpture to one plane. In this image of power and strength, the main mass occupies the top half of the sculpture, imparting a high centre of gravity which suggests potential for flight. The sense of imminent movement is enhanced by its surface texture which has the membranous quality of a spread bat’s wing and looks as if it were stretched taught, ready for take-off. In part this is the result of the way the original maquette was made. Its metal armatures of brazed rods and wire ribs were filled with a plaster-based composite called ‘Stolit’ which was scraped and scored to reveal the skeletal structure beneath. To anchor the figure visually, a vertical ridge runs down the centre of the back and the front, with strongly-marked horizontal ridges on the front of the wings and similar lines dividing the back into geometric sections. Cast in bronze by the lost-wax process, Tate’s version has a green, rust brown and white patina, with the artist’s name inscribed into the base alongside the stamped foundry mark, ‘Pangolin Edition’.
During the 1930s Chadwick had worked as an architectural draughtsman and in the Second World War volunteered to fly, joining the Fleet Air Arm and qualifying as a pilot in 1941. He was then posted to aircraft carriers in the North Atlantic and remained in the Forces until 1944. After the War he worked as a designer, creating mobiles and learning to weld, only engaging fully with three-dimensional sculpture in the mid-1950s. He began bronze casting in 1956, and several maquettes for one and two-headed figures – male and female – date from the period 1956–8 (Farr and Chadwick, pp.134–41). In 1956 Chadwick was awarded the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale, and he had thus already acquired an international reputation by the time he was invited to create the R34 monument.
In the event, both the Minister of Transport and Royal Fine Art Commission, Harold Watkinson, and Frederick Gibberd approved Chadwick’s maquette. It was, however, strongly opposed by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, whose leader, Lord Brabazon of Tara, described it as ‘a diseased haddock’ (quoted in Farr, p.58). Although the Air League was forced to withdraw the maquette from the Committee in 1958, Chadwick cast the sculpture in bronze in an edition of nine, entitled Maquette II for R34 Memorial (reproduced in Farr and Chadwick, p.141, fig.251) that same year. He also created a second version of the original maquette, titled Maquette for R34 Memorial, in 1958 (reproduced Farr and Chadwick, p.151, fig.282). A full-size version (2.3 metres high) was cast in 1959 in an edition of four and re-named Stranger III, the title under which it was shown in his retrospective at Tate in 2003. On that occasion a special display was mounted to illustrate the process of lost-wax casting, and a replica of the original maquette was chosen as a demonstration piece, together with the specially made new cast, T12023. Because it was created for a casting display, the maquette replica, also generously donated by the artist’s estate, is not in the main collection, but in the Tate Archive.
Dennis Farr, Lynn Chadwick, Tate 2003, reproduced pp.54–7.
Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick, Sculptor, Aldershot and Burlington, Vermont 2006, pp.134, 140–1 and 151–1.