Metal is a solid, hard, opaque material that has been used by sculptors since ancient times

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  • Sir Hamo Thornycroft, 'Teucer' 1881
    Sir Hamo Thornycroft
    Teucer 1881
    object: 2407 x 1511 x 660 mm, 230 kg
    Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1882
  • Carl Andre, 'Venus Forge' 1980
    Carl Andre
    Venus Forge 1980
    Steel and copper plates
    displayed: 5 x 1200 x 15550 mm
    Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996© Carl Andre/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2002
  • David Annesley, 'Swing Low' 1964
    David Annesley
    Swing Low 1964
    Painted steel
    object: 1283 x 1759 x 368 mm
    Presented by Alistair McAlpine (later Lord McAlpine of West Green) 1970© David Annesley

There are two families of metals: ferrous and non ferrous. All ferrous metals contain iron. Non ferrous metals include aluminium, zinc and copper and its alloys, for example bronze. Metals can be hammered without breaking or cracking them in order to shape them, they can also be melted and used in moulds or made into wire and modelled – this makes them ideal media for sculptors to work with.

The use of bronze for making cast sculpture is very ancient, and bronze is perhaps the metal most traditionally thought of as a sculptural medium. From the early twentieth century, however, artists such as Pablo Picasso and the Russian constructivists began to explore the use of other metals, and Julio González introduced welded metal sculpture. The use of a range of metals and of industrial making techniques became widespread in minimal art and new generation sculpture for example.