Pamela Booth (dates unknown), Leon Underwood with Violin Rhythm, c.1934, Black and white photograph Private collection
This is the first major exhibition for over forty-five years of the work of the British artist Leon Underwood (1890-1975). Described as the ‘precursor of modern sculpture in Britain’, he was a significant influence on artists such as Eileen Agar, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. In a period where many artists were drawn to abstraction, the human figure remained at the heart of Underwood’s work throughout his career.
Although perhaps best known as a sculptor, Underwood also worked as a painter and printmaker. Underwood’s exuberant life-drawings broke free from the academic traditions of art schools, and at his own Brook Green School of Art he inspired a generation of British artists, and was to be a driving force in wood-engraving of the 1920s and 30s. His travels in Mexico and West Africa, as well as his collections of non-western art, were to lead to the creation of a diverse body of sculptures, paintings, prints and drawings and these were introduce a vital and rhythmic energy into Modern British art. The exhibition charts the development of Underwood’s work from early paintings based on his experiences as a camouflage artist in the First World War to his bronze sculptures on philosophical themes created in the 1950s and 1960s.
The exhibition includes over 100 works from private collections and public museums, including the Ashmolean Museum, the Imperial War Museum, Leeds Museums and Art Galleries, and the National Portrait Gallery. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue available from the Gallery Bookshop, and a programme of talks, tours and creative workshops. In Room 17 there is a complementary display ‘Wood Engraving and the Brook Green School: Eileen Agar, Gertrude Hermes, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Henry Moore and their Contemporaries.’