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Not on display

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924–2005
Object: 400 × 450 × 250 mm, 19.6 kg
Purchased 1995


In the summer of 1947 the Mayor Gallery, London, held Eduardo Paolozzi's first one-man exhibition. Its success gave him the means to move to Paris, where he stayed until 1950. It was there, in his studio in the Rue Visconti on the Ile St Louis, that Bird, one of his earliest extant bronzes, was modelled in clay. On his return to London in 1950 it was sand cast at Wilkinsons Foundry in Wilkinson's Mews and the vertical members were welded on. No editions were made.

While in Paris, Paolozzi, who before his departure from Britain in 1947 was already interested in Surrealism, became acquainted with many of the movement's leading members, among them the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). The impact of Giacometti's surrealist works of the early 1930s is clear in Bird. In particular, the interpenetration of abstract elements is highly reminiscent of Giacometti's Disagreeable Object To Be Disposed Of (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh), a work originally owned by the artist and collector Roland Penrose (1900-1984). Paolozzi had known Penrose since the mid 1940s and had often visited his house in Downshire Hill, Hampstead, describing it as 'a home overflowing with bizarre books, African carvings, peculiar documents and strange indescribable objects' (Eduardo Paolozzi, 'Retrospective Statements' in Robbins, p.192). Both works also share the primitivised aesthetic of sculptural artefacts from the West Coast of Africa. Paolozzi, himself, had shown an interest in such objects as early as 1944 when he sketched pieces in the Pitt-Rivers Collection, Oxford, while studying at the Slade, which had been temporarily re-located to Oxford. Such references to culture outside the canon of European high art were common within Surrealism and were to become so in Paolozzi's work.

Bird is one of a number of free-standing table sculptures that Paolozzi made while in Paris, but unlike Paris Bird 1948-9 (Tate T07053) which was made using casts of found machine parts, its formal references are predominantly biomorphic. Although the two large vertical elements protruding from the topside may refer to wings, Paolozzi has acknowledged that the interpenetration of the horizontal plane by organic forms suggests the growth of plants above and below ground more than it does a bird. The vivid green patination supports this reading. Apart from the art of Giacometti and other Surrealists, one possible source for these forms, cited by Diane Fitzpatrick, may have been the cut-away botanical exhibits that Paolozzi had seen in the natural history museums of London and Paris (Kirkpatrick, p.18). In these displays plants were shown in glass-cases so that their subterranean roots, as well as their upper parts, were visible. Such organic sources, perhaps pre-eminent among them D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's book Growth and Form, were of common interest to artists after the war.

The sculpture was originally owned by the architects Jane Drew (1911-1996) and Maxwell Fry (1899-1987), with whom Paolozzi worked on various projects during the early 1950s. In 1960 it was exhibited at the XXX Venice Biennale, where Paolozzi represented Britain.

Further reading:
Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi, London 1970, pp.11-18
Fiona Pearson, Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999, pp.14-23
Eduardo Paolozzi, Lost Magic Kingdoms and Six Paper Moons from Nahuatl, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 1985

Toby Treves
May 2001

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Display caption

This is one of Paolozzi's earliest bronzes. Although called 'Bird', the artist acknowledges that this piece is more about the growth of plants both above and below ground. Paolozzi lived in Paris from 1947 to 1950 and 'Bird' was modelled in clay in his studio in the Rue Visconti, on the Ile St Louis. It was brought back to Britain to be cast in bronze. It was sand cast and is a unique work; the vertical members have been welded on. The bronze has been given a bright green patination, which links it to the world of plants.

Gallery label, August 2004

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