1950 was a significant year for Lynn Chadwick. It was the year he received his first major commissions, including three for the Festival of Britain. He rarely made preliminary models of his sculptures, preferring the work to evolve in the course of its making, but Stabile with Mobile Elements is an exception – a small maquette for Stabile (Cypress), a giant four-metre work commissioned by the architect and designer Misha Black (1910–77) for the terrace of the Regatta Restaurant on the South Bank site of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and since destroyed. Another version also made in 1951, twice as large as the Tate maquette (1220 mm), Stabile (Maquette II for ‘Cyprus’), is held in the Sainsbury collection at the University of East Anglia, Norwich (reproduced in Farr and Chadwick, p.67 cat.48).
Before the War, Chadwick had worked as an architectural draughtsman and designed mobiles as decoration for exhibition stands, an activity which led him to see their potential as sculpture, for example Stabile with Mobile Elements 1950 (T11966). The term ‘stabile’ was first coined in 1943 by Jean Arp (1886–1966) who used it to describe the stationary, abstract sculptures of Alexander Calder (1898–1976). Chadwick always insisted that he had no knowledge of Calder’s mobiles or stabiles but had evolved his own style from his work on exhibition stands. The maquette for Cypress is one of Chadwick’s first works to have no mobile elements: it is a stable structure of curved copper sheets tapering to a point at the top and bottom, and brazed onto thin bronze rods fixed to a stone base that give the sculpture a flame-like shape reminiscent of a cypress tree. 1950 was also the year when, in order to work with greater weight and materials that could not be manipulated by hand, Chadwick went on a short welding course, learning how to use oxy-acetylene equipment and working mainly with copper. It was a skill that allowed him to melt metal rods and use them to join other pieces of metal at a nodal point, the articulations becoming part of the character of the finished sculpture.
In this work, the bronze has a green, irregularly patinated finish, while the inside surfaces of the metal sheets have been coloured black. The final version of Cypress was made with rigid brass rods and four copper sheets supported on iron struts welded to a base plate which was covered by rocks and plants when sited in the Regatta garden (reproduced in Farr and Chadwick, p.67 cat.50).
For an international competition to design a memorial to The Unknown Political Prisoner in 1953 Chadwick submitted a maquette which, though made of welded iron and more squat in form, is highly reminiscent of Cypress, being constructed by joining pointed sheets of metal with rods to make a ring, like a circle of dancers.
Cypress was created just before Chadwick was invited to join the eight young sculptors selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1952. He was at the same time working on the large (2280 mm) Inner Eye (Museum of Modern Art, New York), an iron and glass maquette for which is in the Tate (T01226). This too suggests organic forms with a strong note of aggression and shows Chadwick favouring upright forms, sheets of metal suspended on thin legs, or feet, and wrapped around another structure to give a sense of containment.
Dennis Farr, Lynn Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, reproduced pp.20–1.
Dennis Farr and Éva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick, Sculptor, Aldershot and Burlington, Vermont 2006, reproduced p.65.