The natural beauty of southern England has continually influenced British art, and in its first exhibition of the academic year, the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery
explores how leading artists transposed the region’s towering cliffs and expansive coasts into sculpture.
“Icons of British Sculpture”
opened with a reception on Thursday, illustrating the extraordinary talents of Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Barbara Hepworth and more. The exhibition’s small maquettes and drawings provide an introduction into the styles of the artists—and a springboard into their large-scale work found across England and throughout the world.
While preparing for an exhibition on the work of painter John Hubbard several years ago, Brady Art Gallery Director and Chief Curator Lenore Miller, M.F.A. ’72, traveled to Cornwall and took in the sights and surroundings that have inspired so many. She had the rare opportunity to visit Ms. Hepworth’s private studio, a huge space strewn with sculptures and other materials, just how Ms. Hepworth had left it. Ms. Miller’s time in England instilled in her a deeper understanding of the artists in the show.
“I wandered along the rocky shores of St. Ives, driving over wild expanses near the sea meandering over the town. The experience gave me a lasting impression of what it would be like to live the life of an artist there,” Ms. Miller said.
“Icons of British Sculpture” first premiered at the Reading Public Museum
in Pennsylvania. Curator Scott Schweigert, M.A. ’96, selected works from a small group of collectors interested in British art. The criteria were simple: The Reading Public Museum sought works that were similar in scale and showcased artists considered specialists in their field.
“We toss the word ‘icon’ around loosely these days—everyone is an icon. But these artists are genuinely leading sculptors, and I don’t think anyone would challenge that notion,” Mr. Schweigert said.
Many of the show’s pieces came from Luther W. Brady, B.A. ’46, M.D. ’48, a renowned oncologist, honorary degree recipient and emeritus member of the university's Board of Trustees who endowed the Brady Art Gallery in 2002. Dr. Brady acquires art “in depth”—in other words, he said, he tries to purchase a number of pieces by a specific artist rather than just one. He remembered first securing Mr. Moore’s work—he knew the artist personally and began buying his pieces from Fisher Fine Arts and the NewArtCentre in London. Since then, Dr. Brady’s significant collection of British art has grown to include the work of Ms. Hepworth and Mr. Caro, as well as Lynn Chadwick, Kenneth Armitage and Barry Flanagan, all artists included in “Icons of British Sculpture.”
Collectors Joseph DiGangi (left) and Luther W. Brady (right) both lended pieces for "Icons of British Sculpture."
After Mr. Schweigert organized the Reading Public Museum’s version of the show, Dr. Brady wanted to bring it to the GW community. Ms. Miller selected pieces that wouldn’t overpower the Brady Art Gallery’s intimate space and curated the exhibit in a way that allows visitors to gradually encounter work, learning more about the vital role of each artist with every step.
One unifying theme in the exhibit is the abstraction of the human form. Ms. Hepworth’s bronze, bone-shaped “Reclining Figure (Trewyn)” builds off themes Mr. Moore established in his own work, which viewers can trace in his bronze “Draped Reclining Figure: Knee.” The exhibit also plays with voids and solids in sculpture. Ms. Miller shared that many of the pieces, like Mr. Moore’s maquettes, are pierced with round gaps that a viewer could imagine an artist peering out from to stare into landscape.
The show maintains the themes from the Reading Public Museum, but with new energy. This isn’t the first time the Brady Art Gallery has collaborated with a prominent arts center: Last year’s exhibit “Littoral: John Hubbard in Context” is currently on display at the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, Pa., and a number of exhibitions have travelled from the Brady Art Gallery to the Reading Public Museum. Dr. Brady added that the gallery has a history of exhibiting internationally famed artists, among them abstractionist Jules Olitski and D.C.-based color field painter Sam Gilliam, and now some of England’s greats.
“The gallery has shown prominent major artists, both American and foreign,” Dr. Brady said. “It has opened up a vista for the university.”