Bernard Meadows



Not on display
Bernard Meadows 1915–2005
Bronze on travertine stone base
Object: 649 x 1410 x 450 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983


This piece is of polished bronze on a travertine marble base. This is the second cast from plaster of an edition of three; another is in the Hakone Museum in Japan. Meadows said that Lovers developed out of a smaller three-piece sculpture called Help, 1966 (City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery). Lovers, which Meadows described as 'a soft form squeezed between two harder forms, the one cubic and immobile, the other more aggressive', is suggestive of the amorphous pieces produced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth in the 1930s, which frequently included larger forms protecting smaller ones. The punctured surface of the piece simultaneously suggests a wound, an eye, and other orifices.

As W.J. Strachan (Connoisseur, April 1974) observes, there are a number of drawings by Meadows which explore the idea of soft shapes under pressure or crushed between compact and solid forms. This is also the theme of his monumental sculpture for the Eastern Counties Newspapers building at Norwich. Strachan also notes Meadows's preoccupation with 'contrasting mat and highly polished metal', which is another feature of Lovers.

Further reading:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1988, p.530, reproduced
W.J. Strachan, 'The Sculptor and his Drawings 2. Bernard Meadows', Connoisseur, vol.185, April 1974, pp.288-93
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, Much Hadham and London 1995, p.145, reproduced pl.112 in colour

Terry Riggs
January 1998

Display caption

Bernard Meadows was born in Norwich and attended Norwich School of Art between 1934 and 1936. He studied at the Royal College of Art, and in the late 1930s was a studio assistant to Henry Moore. During the early 1950s the work of Meadows and other British sculptors often incorporated forms suggesting aggressive or wounded insects, birds and marine creatures. Meadows became interested in the crab motif, which recurs in his work, while he was serving in the RAF on the Cocos Islands. 'Lovers' is a late work in which the forms seem to refer to the human figure but where there is also a suggestion of mechanical forces at work. The artist had made a number of drawings exploring the effects of pressure on soft shapes. He described 'Lovers' as 'a soft form squeezed between two harder forms, the one cubic and immobile, the other more aggressive'.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Bernard Meadows b.1915

Lovers 1980


Bronze and Travertine marble 649 x 1410 x 450 (25 9/16 x 55 ½ x 17 ¾)

Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Purchased from the artist by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Friends of the Tate Gallery Annual Report 1st May 1983-30th April 1984, London 1984, p.14, reproduced
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, London 1986, p.279
Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995, pp.17-18, 20, 125, pl.112 (colour)
Tim Hilton, ‘Just a Little Bit Moore’, Independent on Sunday, 24 September 1995, p.22, reproduced

Bernard Meadows retired from his prestigious position as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1980. As a result, he lost his studio at the college and took a space in a shopping parade in a council estate at the World’s End in London’s Chelsea. The plaster for this sculpture was made there and the bronze was cast at the Royal College.[1] The studio was not successful and Meadows abandoned it and was given an alternative at Henry Moore’s home and workplace at Perry Green, Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. After the stability of the Royal College, these practical problems restricted the artist’s output of sculpture and, as a consequence, Lovers is one of his last major sculptural statements. It is number BM 127 in a list of one hundred and thirty works in his catalogue raisonné.[2]

The sculpture was made in four sections which are bolted together. At one end is a relatively rectilinear ‘C’ shape; there is a pair of apparently squashed forms in the middle, and a cluster of organic ‘buds’ at the other end. The sculpture was hollow-cast in bronze in 1982 and it is possible to see where the different sections were welded together after casting around the necks of the bud-like forms and across the middle of the rectilinear section. The artist has explained that the unpatinated bronze was given a ‘satin’ finish by rubbing with wet and dry paper and a surface patterning - swirling in the flat areas, shorter in corners and around curves – can be seen. Despite this working of the surface, the bronze is still pitted and the polishing has revealed areas of different coloured metal. The finish was protected by a layer of lacquer, applied after the work arrived at the Tate Gallery, which can be seen to have run in places. Meadows explained that this was an attempt at resisting the inevitable dulling of the polished bronze.

This is the second cast in an edition of three and another is in the Hakone Museum in Japan. That cast, which is reproduced in colour in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, retains its high polish and does not have a Travertine base like the Tate’s.[3] The artist sent photographs of the plaster for this sculpture to the Tate in May 1982 and the purchase was agreed. On 4 October 1983 the director, Alan Bowness, visited the artist’s studio and saw the bronze, which was delivered to the gallery in time for the meeting of the Board of Trustees on 17 November. It was only towards the end of February 1984 that Meadows visited the gallery to lacquer the piece and attach it to the base, which he had sent earlier.[4]

Meadows’s sculpture had been made up of such highly polished bronze pieces since the second half of the 1960s. Until then his bronzes were characteristically dark and this was first interrupted by a shiny element with Armed Bust: Two Eyes, 1965,[5] in which two polished organic forms stand as representations of the eyes in the title. Though this suggestion of surveillance recurred in other pieces, the forms also took on a more generalised organicism. The apparent softness of the forms suggested associations with fruit and breasts which signalled a broadly procreative theme. Despite this aspect, such motifs as Pointing Figure, 1967 (Arts Council Collection)[6] represented the continuation of his fascination with ideas of threat and vulnerability. Such a theme may be witnessed in Lovers, which the artist described as ‘a soft form squeezed between two harder forms, the one cubic and immobile, the other more aggressive’.[7] The concept had been used in an earlier work, Help, 1966 (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery)[8] and the artist recognised Lovers as ‘developed out of’ that piece.[9]

In 1998, Meadows identified the two similar forms in the middle of the work as the lovers of the title.[10] The use of a simple, reflected shape derived from Constantin Brancusi’s The Kiss, 1912 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), though the block-like elements of that seminal modernist work were transformed by Meadows into softer, cushion-like pieces.[11] A very deliberate hollow between them was identified as equivalent to the eyes in the Brancusi, though such a deep orifice between two closely conjoined forms may be felt to introduce a sexual undertone. While the two central elements are the lovers, the artist intended the outer sections to represent their masculine and feminine characteristics. On one side, the ‘cubic and immobile’[12] element stands for what he saw as male stability, contrasted with the more variable ‘flibbertigibbet’ quality of the female.[13] That the forms of the latter suggest buds or fruit may also be seen to symbolise an association of femininity with fecundity and procreation. The use of abstract sculptural form to symbolise human qualities may be seen to summarise much of the work that had preceded Lovers.

Chris Stephens
November 1998

[1] Interview with the author, 5 November 1998
[2] Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995
[3] Ibid., p.125, pl.112
[4] Tate Gallery acquisitions files
[5] BM 97, reproduced in Alan Bowness, Bernard Meadows: Sculpture and Drawings, London 1995, p.75, pl.57
[6] BM 110, reproduced ibid., p.145
[7] Conversation with Tate Gallery curator, January 1984
[8] BM 102, reproduced ibid., p.101, pl.86
[9] Conversation with Tate Gallery curator, January 1984
[10] Interview with the author, 5 November 1998
[11] Reproduced in Sidney Geist, Brancusi: The Sculpture and Drawings, New York 1975, p.62 (colour)
[12] Conversation with Tate Gallery curator, January 1984
[13] Interview with the author, 5 November 1998


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