Lynn Chadwick

Stabile with Mobile Elements


Not on display

Lynn Chadwick 1914–2003
Copper, brass and slate on stone base
Object: 1280 × 240 × 240 mm
Presented by the artist's estate 2005


This work is one of the earliest in Lynn Chadwick’s career as a sculptor. Before the Second World War, Chadwick had worked as an architectural draughtsman and had made mobiles to decorate exhibition stands, calling himself a designer. 1950 was the year when the London gallery Gimpel Fils gave him his first exhibition, when he exhibited a small stabile with mobile elements with the artists’ collective, the London Group, and when two large sculptural works were commissioned for the Festival of Britain restaurants on London’s South Bank. He began to see his work as more than mere constructions, and his profession as that of a sculptor.

Stabile with Mobile Elements is one of the first works in which mobile components are suspended from a static sculpture and not from the ceiling, the word ‘stabile’ indicating an abstract sculpture made of metal or wire related in design to a mobile, but fixed and static. The term 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, such as the one he designed for the Aluminium Development Association at the 1947 Builders’ Trades Fair exhibition, a work much admired by the architect Basil Spence (1907–76).

Within three upright, curved metal rods on a limestone base are fixed twelve triangles cut from bronze sheet, each joined to the next by one corner. At the top is a wire construction in the shape of an aerial with two antennae at one end balanced by a single disc at the other. The uprights are static: the ‘aerial’ on top is a floating mobile hanging on a hook and made of four thin bronze rods which balance by means of weights. The largest is made from grey limestone with a hole in it through which passes a bronze rod with a small bronze ball at one end, designed to slot into a concave area of the weight and so hold it in position. At the other end are two vertical rods, connected in the centre, to each of which are attached small, teardrop-shaped weights made of bronze. Stabile with Mobile Elements was first shown at the exhibition of Seven British Contemporary Artists at Black Hall, Oxford, in May 1952 when its title was Space Frame in Green, referring to the green oxidization of the metal.

At this time, Chadwick was about to gain international recognition as one of several young sculptors representing Britain at the 1952 Venice Biennale, a confident assertion that Henry Moore (1898–1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903–75) would be succeeded by a talented, new generation. Like several of his contemporaries, Chadwick worked with open structures, but unlike them, his had evolved from an interest in architecture and design, not from an opening up of solid sculptural form. In 1956 his reputation would be consolidated when he was awarded the International Sculpture prize at the Venice Biennale.

Chadwick’s working practice was to explore through making, not through drawings or maquettes and he always retained an interest in natural forms and organic vitality. While his earliest sculpture is his most abstract, appearing open and weightless, from the early 1950s onwards his work gradually became more solidly three-dimensional and increasingly contained recognizable human or animal references.

Further reading:
Dennis Farr, Lynn Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, reproduced p.18.
Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick, Sculptor, Aldershot and Burlington, Vermont 2006, reproduced p.64.

Valerie Holman
March 2009

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Display caption

This elegant space frame with its pivoted, mobile elements is one of Chadwick’s earliest surviving pieces.

In concept and construction it reflects his experience as an exhibition designer. He had first used mobiles as a design feature for trade exhibition stands. The use of a basic framework recalls architecture of the 1950s, as well as the work of the twentieth-century Russian sculptor Naum Gabo, who wanted to make art that defined space without enclosing it.

Gallery label, July 2008

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