Lynn Chadwick

The Fisheater


On loan

Barbican Art Gallery (London, UK): Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945-65

Lynn Chadwick 1914–2003
Iron and copper
Presented by the artist 1999


Immediately after the Second World War (1939-45) Lynn Chadwick resumed his job as an architectural draughtsman working mainly on the design of exhibition stands for the architect Rodney Thomas (1902-1996). At the time Thomas was making various models exploring the possibilities of physical balance as an architectural feature; some were kinetic. In 1946, apparently ignorant of Alexander Calder's (1898-1976) mobiles, Chadwick developed Thomas's idea by suspending thin two-dimensional shapes in equilibrium. Initially the mobiles were conceived as part of the decorative scheme for exhibition stands, but in 1949 one of Chadwick's mobiles was exhibited as an autonomous artwork at Gimpel Fils, London. Between 1947 and 1952 he made at least sixty mobiles, of which some were suspended and others freestanding. Fisheater was soon considered by critics to be the most important of these works. For Mary Sorrell, writing for The Studio in 1952, Fisheater was 'particularly thrilling' (Sorrell, p.76); eight years later J.P.Hodin wrote, 'Mastery of the material combined with a fine sensibility for balance, movement and the harmony of large and small forms are its outstanding features.' (Hodin, p.6).

Fisheater, which was commissioned by the Arts Council as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations of 1951, was made at Pinswell, Chadwick's home near Upper Coberley in Gloucestershire. It was first displayed in the 60 Paintings for '51 exhibition held at the Royal Society of British Artists Galleries, London, during June and July 1951. Two other works, Stabile (Cypress) (destroyed) and Second Tower Mobile (private collection), were also commissioned for the Festival but, unlike Fisheater, they were exhibited at the main South Bank site. The large scale of all these works resulted in a substantial increase in the weight of their various elements, which in turn meant Chadwick had to devise a new method of linking the sections. Wire, the material he had been using, was not strong enough. Consequently, in the summer of 1950, he learnt to weld in order to be able to construct with iron rods. This development brought his work closer to that of his contemporary Reg Butler (1913-1981), who had learned to forge and weld while working as a blacksmith during the war. At the same time Chadwick began to experiment with free-standing mobiles; Green Finger Mobile, which was first exhibited at the Second International Exhibition of Sculpture in Battersea Park, London, between May and September 1951, and Fisheater were the first large scale examples of this development in his work.

The title Fisheater has generated much speculation among critics. Hodin detected a direct correspondence between the shape of the mobile and marine life, describing the main structure as 'the elegant shape of a pair of pincers typical of crustaceans upheld by an elongated form in which the motif of teeth or hooks is repeating a similar motif inside the pincers which may also be seen as an open jaw. A group of small fish forms on the one end of the main structure is balanced by larger forms at the other end with two ball-shaped weights on longs rods ensuring smooth movement.' (Hodin, p.6). Alan Bowness, however, was more cautious in assigning specific figurative references, suggesting that initially Chadwick may have perceived an organic vitality in the movement of the mobiles and have used such titles to help him remember each piece more easily. Calder had used similar titles for mobiles he made in the 1930s and 1940s.

Both Hodin and the critic Herbert Read considered Chadwick's work to reflect the spirit of its time or zeitgeist. To them the postwar period was characterised by extreme technological sophistication and base human aggression. The formal and technical refinement of the work combined with its animalistic references was, according to them, an expression of this pervasive spirit. For Mary Sorrell, however, who had also noted the animal references in Chadwick's mobiles of the early 1950s, the works were, on the whole, enchanting and lyrical.

Further reading:
Alan Bowness, Lynn Chadwick, London 1962, p.30
J.P.Hodin, Chadwick, London 1961, pp.6-7, reproduced p.23, pl.1
Herbert Read, Lynn Chadwick, Zurich 1960, p.7, reproduced p.25, pl.1
Mary Sorrell, 'The Mobiles of Lynn Chadwick', The Studio, no.714, September 1952, pp.76-9, reproduced p.76
Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick: Sculptor, Oxford 1990, pp.6-7, reproduced p.60 and p.351, and pl.1(colour)

Toby Treves
June 2001

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Display caption

This is the masterpiece of Chadwick’s early work during which, like many of his contemporaries, he produced forms based on ideas of nature. He saw  nature as violent and dangerous. Many commentators at the time, in particular the leading critic Herbert Read, saw this as an intuitive response to the violence of recent times and to the anxieties of nuclear age.

Although the titles and appearance of such works often suggest particular animals, the artist usually discussed them in terms of their form and manufacture.

Gallery label, August 2004

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