Marlow Moss



Marlow Moss 1889–1958
Brass on wooden base
Object: 214 × 93 × 88 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Denise Coates Foundation on the occasion of the 2018 centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Britain 2018


This is one of three sculptures by Marlow Moss in which sheets of metal have been folded to create a pattern based on the structure and planes of a tetrahedron. The location of the other two is not known, but one of them is identified in a black and white archival photograph held in Tate Archives, which has an inscription by Moss on the reverse giving the title as Construction Based on a Tetrahedron and the date 1950. This photograph shows a construction composed of the same pattern of repeated tetrahedron planes as seen in Untitled c.1950, but extended so that it is formed of approximately five times as many elements. Each of the sculptures is fixed to a narrow cuboid base.

The structure of this sculpture is characteristic of Moss’s three-dimensional work, in which she often explored concepts of geometrical mathematics. She is known to have read the philosophy of mathematician Matila Ghyka, for instance, whose ideas were founded upon the Pythagorean concept that the universe is formed entirely from principles of geometry. Since the late 1920s she had been familiar with the work and theories of the pioneering abstract artist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), who she is known to have met in Paris in 1929.

Moss attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London between 1917 and 1919. Her life during the 1920s was characterised by movements between London and Cornwall. After a four-year period in Cornwall, in 1923 Moss returned to London, by which time she had changed her name from Marjorie to Marlow. A few years later she was again in Cornwall, studying at Penzance Art School. In London from 1926, she had her first exhibition with the London Group in 1927. That year Moss also moved to Paris, whereupon she attended the Académie Moderne and met her future life partner, Netty Nijhoff-Wind, who previously owned this sculpture. Part of a relatively varied community of artists associated with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création in the mid-1930s, Moss here encountered the ideas and works of Swiss and French constructivists Max Bill (1908–1994) and Jean Gorin (1899–1981).

During the Second World War Moss stayed with Nijhoff in the Netherlands, before fleeing for London in 1940, leaving much of her work behind. Upon her return to England, she again travelled to Cornwall, where she settled in Lamorna, south-west of Penzance. It is here that she began to make metal constructions such as a polished copper column of c.1944, partly inspired by having attended a course in architecture at Penzance during the war. Although she continued to make regular trips to Paris after the end of the war and exhibited in international groupings such as the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Lamorna remained Moss’s permanent residence until her death in 1958.

The sculpture Untitled c.1950 is characteristic of Moss’s sculptural works of the 1950s, many of which were conceived as explorations in geometrical relationships. In material and form is it reminiscent of the totemic but restrained resonance of works by the modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) and the abstract sculpting of geometrical planes in the early work of Naum Gabo (1890–1977). In its basis upon non-representational geometry it is also closely connected to the tenets of post-war constructivism in Britain and further afield. Within the artist’s output of this period, these tetrahedron constructions are comparable to other metal constructions formed of geometric elements, such as the steel Spatial Construction 1949 (Nijhoff/Oosthoek Collection, Zurich), and later forms of polished brass sheets, including Concentric Circles Projected in Space 1953 (whereabouts unknown). Over the following years Moss’s sculptures took on added complexity regarding the range of materials and forms assembled together, as demonstrated by Balanced Forms in Gunmetal on Cornish Granite 1956–7 (Tate T01114).

Further reading
Florette Dijkstra, Marlow Moss: Constructivist + the Reconstruction Project, translated Annie Wright, Den Bosch, Netherlands 1995.
Lucy Howarth, Marlow Moss (1889–1958), Ph.D. thesis, University of Plymouth 2008, series illustrated p.129.
Sabine Schaschl (ed.), A Forgotten Maverick: Marlow Moss, exhibition catalogue, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich 2017, illustrated p.83.

Rachel Rose Smith
August 2018

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