Bernard Meadows, alongside artists such as Lynn Chadwick and Reg Butler, was one of the outstanding generation of post-war British sculptors who took centre stage at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Meadows exhibited three bronze works in the British Pavilion in Venice – two crabs and a cock. These works – spiky and violent – were described by the art critic Herbert Read as part of ‘The Geometry of Fear’ – a phrase which came to be associated with their sculptures.
As well as the crab, Meadows’ work of the 1950s was primarily focused on birds, in particular the cockerel. The artist commented ‘birds can express a whole range of tragic emotion, they have a vulnerability which makes it easy to use them as vehicles for people’.
In 1954 Meadows had been commissioned to create a new sculpture for a school by the Hertfordshire Director of Education. The result was a startling, double life-size sculpture of a cockerel, more naturalistic in style than the present work. The success of this venture led Meadows to continue to investigate sculpting animals as vehicles for the human figure. Meadows said that his work was ‘all about the human condition. The crabs, and the birds, and the armed figures, the pointing figures, are all about fear … perhaps not fear, it’s vulnerability’.
Cock (Fountain Figure) is unique and was commissioned in 1959 by Crown Woods School, Eltham, for the fountain in their grounds. For many years it was thought to have been destroyed, until it re-surfaced at auction and was purchased by The Ingram Collection.
BERNARD MEADOWS BRITISH, 1915-2005
Bernard Meadows studied painting at Norwich School of Art from 1934-6. From 1936-9 and again in 1946-8 Meadows worked as an assistant for Henry Moore, who became a close friend and great mentor to the young artist.
In 1936 at the age of 21, Meadows took part in the first surrealist exhibition in London. The war meant he would not exhibit again until the first Battersea Park open air exhibition during the Festival of Britain in 1951. However, it was in 1952, representing Britain in the Venice Biennale, that Meadows first attracted international attention. Exhibiting among the group of other young British artists that became known as the ‘Geometry of Fear’ sculptors thanks to Herbert Read’s introductory essay, it was arguably Meadows who most fitted the description and whose works most readily expressed the ‘images of flight, of ragged claws ‘scuttling across silent seas’, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear’ to which Read referred.
Meadow’s first one-man show was held at Gimpel Fils in 1957. He went on to teach at Chelsea School of Art during the 1960s and later became an influential and inspirational professor of sculpture at the RCA, where he taught for twenty years and whose pupils included Elisabeth Frink.
I look upon birds and crabs as human substitutes, they are vehicles, expressing my feelings about human beings. To use non-human figures is for me at the present time less inhibiting; one is less conscious of what has gone before and is more free to take liberties with the form and to make direct statements than with the human figure: nevertheless they are essentially human…
In 1995, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park held an 80th birthday survey of Bernard Meadow’s sculpture and works on paper and his work can be found in many prestigious and private collections around the world.