Kenneth Armitage

Standing Figure


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Not on display

Kenneth Armitage 1916–2002
Graphite, gouache, household emulsion and gloss paint on paper
Support: 762 × 210 mm
Presented by the Kenneth Armitage Foundation 2012


Standing Figure 1956 is a drawing in charcoal and gouache on card showing a standing female figure with thin arms and legs and a broadly rectangular torso. It is characteristic of a group of drawings Armitage made in his last year as Head of Sculpture at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court, a post he had held since 1945. The drawing communicates the strong link that existed between Armitage and the painter William Scott who also taught at Corsham as Head of Painting. The historian Alan Bowness has written of the similar ways in which the two artists addressed the subject of the single female figure at this time, suggesting that ‘the flat, soft, rectangular form of the female torso is the basic element in the work of both painter and sculptor at this time’ (quoted in Arts Council 1972, unpaginated).

In his drawings Armitage not only brought out an ungainliness and awkwardness of pose but also, through the contrast of spindly limbs and fleshy torso, suggested a vulnerability and fragility that echoes the existentialist sensibility of contemporaneous late work by school of Paris sculptors such as Germaine Richier (1902–1959) and Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966). In his rendering of single figures, Armitage always accentuated this sense of a fragile humanity.

Drawing was a major part of Armitage’s practice as a sculptor and he routinely kept sketchbooks, making direct studies for sculptures and using drawing as a way of exploring themes that, while close to those resolved in his sculptures, take on their own significance. At the same time, a number of his drawings, like Figure on its Back, are individual works in their own right, even when they relate to ideas he was exploring in his sculpture. This is also the case with the drawings Armitage editioned in lithograph (Seated Group 1960, Tate P06014, and Balanced Figure 1960–1, Tate P06015).

Armitage consolidated his reputation when he showed in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 and 1958. At the earlier Biennale, his work appeared as part of the exhibition New Aspects of British Sculpture, which brought to the fore a tendency in British sculpture that was widely identified as the ‘geometry of fear’ and also included artists such as Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. His work remained largely figurative throughout his career, depicting human bodies as fragile but playful forms often made up of elongated limbs and flattened planes. Later in his career, from the 1960s onwards, he incorporated different materials such as plastic into his practice and began to work on a much larger scale. His public commissions included a war memorial for the city of Krefeld, Germany; a sculpture for the British Embassy in Brasilia; and another for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Further reading
Kenneth Armitage, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1959.
Kenneth Armitage, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1972.
Tamsyn Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage: Life and Work, London 1997.

Andrew Wilson
April 2012
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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