Artist Biography - Leon Underwood

Leon Underwood was born London in 1890, and studied at the Royal College of Art from 1910-13 and Slade School of Fine Art for a year (1919-20), and won the Prix de Rome in 1920. The prize should have entailed a trip to Italy, but, instead, Underwood used the money to travel to Iceland several years later.

In 1921, Underwood opened the Brook Green School of Art, in Hammer
...smith. This school initially mainly taught wood engraving, with an emphasis on life drawing, and was the alma mater of students such as Gertrude Hermes, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Henry Moore, and Eileen Agar. In the period leading up to his foundation of the school, Underwood's travels and interest had led him into the realm of Mayan, African, and Aztec carvings.

Underwood continued throughout his life to travel widely and wrote several books, notably on African art. He illustrated these books (and a few by other authors) with etchings and woodcuts. These publications ran alongside his own sculpture-making, which was directly influenced by all that he had seen. Underwood strongly believed that subject matter was at the basis of all of his artistic creations - he thought that art could not be produced abstractly, without a subject. In this sense Underwood was out of sympathy with the main trends of modernism, describing abstraction as ‘artfully making emptiness less conspicuous’.

From the 1960s critics began to speak of him as the ‘father of modern sculpture in Britain’, in view of the streamlined, stylized forms of his stone carvings and bronzes in the 1920s and 1930s and the influence of his teaching.

Perhaps one of his most renowned pieces is 'Totem to the Artist', held by the Tate, in which primal forms seem to writhe and curl within the wood. However many public collections hold his work as listed below.

the Courtauld Institute of Art, London[8] (39 works)the Tate Gallery, London[4] (8 works)the National Portrait Gallery, London[9] (4 works)the Victoria and Albert Museum, London[10]the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford[11]the National Museum Cardiff[12] (2 works)the British Council Collection, London[13] (5 works)Lincolnshire County Council's Art Collection[14]Hammersmith and Fulham Archives [15] (15 works)The Victor Batte-Lay Trust Collection at The Minories [16] (2 works)The Brooklyn Museum [17] (3 works)Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum [18] (6 works)
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