Sculpture Journal

The New (British) Sculpture and the struggle for realism between the wars

Sculpture Journal (2012), 21, (2), 23–36.


This essay explores the desire displayed by two broad groups of British sculptors in the years immediately after the end of First World War to create a ‘new form’ of public sculpture for Britain. By the early 1930s one leading writer on contemporary sculpture, Kineton Parkes, had identified two generations seeking to create ‘new’ British sculpture. Both had been significantly shaped by their First World War service. However, the slightly older generation - which included Charles Sargeant Jagger MC (1885-1934), William Reid Dick and Gilbert Ledward - looked to the tradition of French realism introduced to the British art world in the late nineteenth century by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838-1902) and Édouard Lantéri (1848-1917), his protégé and successor as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. The younger generation, among whom Parkes included, among others, Eric Kennington (1888-1960), Henry Moore, Maurice Lambert and Frank Dobson, were more impressed by the stylistic experimentation of such Paris-based Modernists as Maillol, Brancusi, Archipenko and Zadkine. This essay focuses in particular detail on the public sculpture of two of the artists Parkes discussed in his 1931 publication The Art of Carved Sculpture: Jagger and Kennington. The former frankly admitting his debt to the ‘New Sculpture’ generation of the 1890s (George Frampton and William Goscombe John in particular), which had been so fundamentally shaped by the example set by Rodin and Dalou. Kennington, for his part, was more open to recent formal trends within European Modernism while seeking to produce innovative carving for the public sphere that would yet remain accessible to the widest possible audience. The degree to which both were granted a platform to develop their ideas through gaining war memorial commissions post-1918 will be discussed as will how both sought to produce architectural sculpture for new buildings, such as purpose-built office headquarters, theatres and public houses, designed by architects exploring possibilities afforded by the example of Le Corbusier and the International Style.

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Author details

Black, Jonathan

Black, Jonathan