Leon Underwood

Herald of New Day


Not on display

Leon Underwood 1890–1975
Plaster on mahogany base
Object: 647 × 292 × 317 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983


After studying at the Slade School, Leon Underwood embarked on a prolific career as a sculptor, painter and print maker, producing an eclectic body of work. Throughout the 1930s Underwood explored the expression of rhythm and dance in sculpture using polished and reflective surfaces. Herald of a New Day, is the original plaster matrix for the three chased bronze sculptures of 1934.

The Herald of a New Day also gave rise to a series of dancing figures all produced in 1934; Violin Rhythm, Negro Rhythm: Harlem, New York and Harlem Rhythm. All are an expression of music and dance - the Herald visualising the ecstatic sound of a trumpet through a figure poised on one leg, the rest of the body arching while playing a trumpet. Underwood’s polishing of the surface in the 1932 and 1934 versions is an essential component of their ability to convey a sense of rhythm.

Underwood first explored the expression of dance and rhythm using polished metals in 1932 with The New Spirit: A Tribute to the Life of Michael Faraday, a sculpture indebted to Umberto Boccioni’s (1882-1916) Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913 (Tate T01589), from which he noted the potential of reflective surface to express dynamism. Underwood also learnt of the role of polished metal in Asian art from Gertrude Hermes (1901-1983), a former member of the Brook Green School of Art who had began to experiment with the technique herself in such works as Baby 1932 (Tate T03221). Both Underwood and Hermes responded to Constantin Brancusi’s (1876-1957) use of polished brass and his condensing of anatomical detail to minimal forms. Accordingly, although the Herald retains its essence as a figure, it has been reduced to a salient form, which is emphasised by its reflective surface. The Herald’s elegant form and slick surface also show an awareness of contemporary Art Deco design.

Herald of a New Day is unabashedly life affirming in its title, its depiction of music and dance and crucially in its surface reflection. Underwood primarily used this surface to achieve a sense of movement, perpetuated in the play of light, shadow and shine. This exuberant and spirited figure invites both touch and reflection, and offers an intimate opportunity for the viewer moving around it to share in the celebration of the vitality evoked.

Further reading
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Pictures, Volume 2, London 1964, p.743
Christopher Neve, Leon Underwood, London 1974
Ben Whitworth, The Sculpture of Leon Underwood, Aldershot 2000

Celina Jeffery
August 2002

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Catalogue entry

T03775 Herald of New Day 1932–3

Plaster 25 1/2 × 11 1/2 × 12 1/2 (647 × 292 × 317)

Not inscribed

Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Presented by the artist to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1934 (A. 45–1934)

The artist said to the Tate Gallery's cataloguer in March 1961 that this work dated from 1932–3 and was the original matrix for the chased bronze cast, exhibited at Leon Underwood, Leicester Galleries, April 1934 (9). There were altogether three bronze casts. The same idea was used at a much later date, in 1957, for the maquette for a nine-foot figure intended for a building, but the project did not materialize. The maquette was exhibited at the Kaplan Gallery, March 1961 (14), with five other variations on the ‘Herald’ theme (15–19).

The sculpture is broken into several pieces. It was previously catalogued as 6127, and described in error as having been transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1952.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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