After studying at the Slade School in 1919, Leon Underwood embarked on a prolific career as a sculptor, painter and print maker, producing an eclectic body of work. Torso: The June of Youth was made at Underwood’s home and studio in Girdlers Road, Hammersmith, London, from where he ran the Brook Green School of Art (1920-39), counting Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Eileen Agar (1899-1991) among others as his students. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Underwood remained strongly committed to subject matter, and more specifically to art of a figurative nature. This is evident in part in his many sculptural references to the torso as in Torso 1930 (Tate T02324) and Torso: The June of Youth 1937.

Throughout the 1930s Underwood explored the expression of rhythm and dance in sculpture using polished and reflective surfaces, as in Herald of a New Day 1932-3 (Tate T06887). In Herald and Torso: The June of Youth Underwood was applying his theory of ‘sculptural consciousness’ or the sculptor’s ‘awareness of the exact nature of the limitations of material and motive’ an idea that closely paralleled the popular concept of ‘truth to materials’ (Underwood, 1932, p.6). This idea informed Underwood’s notion of rhythm and dynamism which he argued is most successfully achieved using metal:

Metal on account of its tensile strength, is particularly suitable as a medium for the dynamic idea. I have therefore made extensive experiments in the modification of the usual bronze casting practice, so that I am now able to cast small works inside the studio. In doing this the real character of bronze form became apparent: a thin skin of metal (Exhibition of Sculpture, 1953, p.2).

In Torso: The June of Youth the figure is not striding, but her outstretched arms and advancing left leg give a sense of motion which is further emphasised by the highly polished and reflective treatment of the bronze. Underwood also applied silver inlay around the breasts and navel of the figure to further enrich the surface quality and sexualise the body.

Further reading:
Leon Underwood, Sculpture Considered Apart from Time and Place, exhibition catalogue, Sydney Burney Gallery, London 1932, p.6
Leon Underwood, Exhibition of Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Beaux Arts Gallery, London 1953, pp.1-2
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Pictures, Volume 2, London 1964, p.743
Ben Whitworth, The Sculpture of Leon Underwood, Aldershot 2000, pp.39, 46, 78, reproduced p.126

Celina Jeffery
August 2002