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Leon Underwood: Figure and Rhythm

[ Exhibition )

Black and white etching by artist Leon Underwood of a man in a brimmed hat, smoking a pipe, looking over a wall.

Leon Underwood, Self Portrait in a Landscape, 1921, Etching on paper, edition size unrecorded, Private Collection

The first major retrospective for over 45 years of the artist Leon Underwood (1890-1975), described as ‘the precursor of modern sculpture in Britain’.

Underwood influenced artists such as Eileen Agar, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. In a period where many artists were working in the abstract, the human figure remained at the heart of Underwood’s work throughout his career.

Although best known as a sculptor, Underwood also worked as a painter and printmaker. He was a driving force in wood-engraving in the 1920s and 30s and his exuberant life-drawings broke free from the academic traditions of art schools, inspiring a generation of artists at his Brook Green School of Art.

Underwood’s travels in Mexico and West Africa and his collection of non-western art led to the creation of a diverse body of sculptures, paintings, prints and drawings. 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 thematic bronze sculptures created in the 1950s and 1960s.

The exhibition included 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 was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue available from the Gallery Bookshop and a programme of talks, tours and creative workshops. In Room 17 there was a complementary display ‘Wood Engraving and the Brook Green School: Eileen Agar, Gertrude Hermes, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Henry Moore and their Contemporaries.’

What the press said

This exhibition proves that Leon Underwood was so much more than simply the man who taught Henry Moore.

Alastair Smart, The Telegraph

…his extraordinary achievement deserves widespread recognition.

Andrew Lambirth, The Telegraph

This exhibition makes an important contribution to the understanding of Underwood’s oeuvre, re-establishing his position at the forefront of artistic modernity in Britain in the 20th century.

Wall Street Journal

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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