Kenneth Armitage CBE (1916 – 2002)

Armitage was part of the great renaissance of British sculpture in the post-war years. Born in 1916, Armitage attended Leeds College of Art and went on to win a scholarship at the Slade School of Art. During the second World War he served in the army, but when this ended, he took up the Head of Sculpture position at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, Wiltshire. Along with William Scott (who was Head of Painting), Armitage helped it become one of the most innovative art schools in the country. The art of bronze casting had been in severe decline because of the austerity of the post-war years; Armitage was instrumental in setting up a new foundry at Corsham so that work by students and staff could be cast under their own supervision.

Armitage’s very early works were carved in stone, but in the post-war years he began casting in bronze, initially using plaster modelled on metal armatures, later using clay. In 1952, He was chosen to exhibit at the 26th Venice Biennale as part of a group of young British sculptors including Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, William Turnbull and Eduardo Paolozzi. His first solo shows were held at Gimpel Fils, London (1952) and the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York (1954).



Kenneth Armitage CBE (1916 – 2002), Children by the Sea, 1953


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Bronze with a dark brown and green patina
Height: 17 in (43.5 cm)
Conceived in 1953 and cast in an edition of 8

Collections: With Gimpel Fils, London where purchased by Mr and Mrs Allan D. Emil, New York by 1958 and thence by descent to the present day
Literature: R. Penrose Armitage 1960, p.30 (pl.10); A. M. Hammacher Modern English Sculpture 1967, pl.120; T. Woolacombe Armitage 1997, KA 42 (pl.143); J. Scott and C. Milburn Armitage 2016, pp39-41 ,100 (pl.43)
Exhibited: Bertha Schaefer Gallery, NY Armitage 1954; Chicago Young British Sculptors, 1955 (7) - British Council Exhibition which subsequently toured to Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Toronto; Venice Biennale Armitage (1958 (82); British Council exhibition 1958 which toured to Paris, Cologne, Brussels, Zurich and Rotterdam; Whitechapel Art Gallery Armitage 1959 (14); Chicago, Smart Museum From Blast to Pop 1997 (55) (Other casts reproduced/exhibited)
Armitage’s seeming banal choice of subjects - Figures going for a Walk/Children Playing/People in the Wind etc, were a radical departure from the norm previously considered appropriate as subject matter. The artist described the process as ‘’figures engaged in a simple everyday activity, combined without needless detail into a single whole with a character and movement of its own’’ and ‘’ joining figures together I found in time I wanted to merge them so completely that they formed a new organic unit-a simple mass of whatever shape I liked containing only that number of heads, limbs and other details I felt necessary’’ (Scott and Milburn op cit p.25).
Children by The Sea was conceived immediately after Armitage’s break out exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1952 where in the company of fellow young Turks Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick and Bernard Matthews et al, the critic Herbert Read famously coined the phrase 'geometry of fear,’. The joyousness of the present work, however, belies any concept of Cold War anxieties and this is an image of the utmost innocence and exuberance.

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