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Henry Moore Institute

Passing By: Architectural Sculpture in Inter-War London (No. 47)

Passing By: Architectural Sculpture in Inter-War London (No. 47)

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There was a high point in architectural sculpture in London between 1925-35, but its diversity has largely gone unnoticed, passed by in the street. A period of optimism following the First World War, where large new organisations were growing and competing against the economies of America and Germany.

Such new organisations required headquarters in London. The resulting building spree provided architects and sculptors with an opportunity to redefine the capital's image for a post-imperial Britain.

The results were contested and mixed. Should Britain look to models of American capitalism or European social democracy, Art Deco or the avant-garde, build on its imperial past or reject it for a technocratic future? A split developed between older artists, trained before the start of the First World War, and the younger generation.

In this essay, Dennis Wardleworth unpacks the debate, taking as a starting point Jacob Epstein's sculpture for the British Medical Association building which came to symbolise the split.

This essay was written to accompany the exhibitions The Third Campaign: A Project by Neal White (8 January - 27 March 2005, the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery) and Medieval and Modern: Direct Carving in the Work of Gill and Barlach (4 March - 5 June 2005, Gallery 4).

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