Leon Underwood, Forty Thousand Years, c.1960, Bronze Private collection © The Estate of Leon Underwood
During the Second World War Leon Underwood once again served in the Camouflage unit from 1939-42. He travelled extensively in West Africa lecturing for the British Council in 1945 and assembled a large collection of carvings, pottery and textiles, which were later sold to a variety of museums and collectors in Britain and the USA. Underwood was to publish three seminal books on figures, bronzes and masks of West Africa and created a group of paintings, linocuts and bronzes in which his treatment of the human form became increasingly faceted, as in his works reimagining the myth of the Birth of Venus with an African woman as the subject.
In later years, Underwood became increasingly preoccupied with his theory of the 'cycle of styles' and a summary of his writings was published in 1961. He produced several bronzes reinterpreting themes from Greek and Roman classical sculptures, such as the Laocöon. These reflect on changes in the ideals of beauty, as in his sculpture '40,000 Years' in which a thin Giacometti-esque female gazes down on a voluptuous Venus of Willendorf, which was then believed to be 40,000 years old. In his own work Underwood had embarked on a remarkable stylistic journey as an artist, but throughout his work had been concerned with the timeless subject of the human figure.