Leon Underwood (1890 - 1975)
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African Madonna (Mother and Child) by Leon Underwood
African Madonna (Mother and Child). 
1934-35

 

Biography

Sculptor, printmaker, painter, designer and teacher, born in London. Studied from 1907-10 at Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art under Percival Gaskell, then a scholarship took him to Royal College of Art, 1910-13 where he was taught painting partly by Gerald Moira. After World War I service in Royal Engineers Camouflage Section, where he created observation posts camouflaged as trees, Underwood completed commissioned pictures for Imperial War Museum. Spent 1919-20 at Slade School of Fine Art on a refresher’s course, almost exclusively life drawing under Henry Tonks. In 1920 he was awarded the British Prix de Rome, set up the Brook Green School of Drawing, Hammersmith in 1921, started on two years of constant printmaking and began first major painting – Venus in Kensington Gardens. First solo show at Chenil Galleries, 1922. He continued teaching life drawing at Royal College of Art until 1923 when he resigned and travelled extensively throughout the rest of the 1920s – Paris, Iceland, Spain, USA and Mexico. Underwood taught drawing at St. Martin’s School of Art and in 1931 founded and published The Island magazine.

After the Second World War, he visited West Africa where he wrote several books on ancient African sculpture and did his first oil paintings on African themes. Among his students were Henry Moore, Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton. From 1948 he started casting his own bronzes in the studio

Although best known for his bronze sculptures, carvings in marble, stone and wood and his drawings, Underwood’s lifetime work includes a wide range of media and activities - always convinced that subject matter formed a fundamental role behind the power of both his own and primitive art, and had no belief in subject-less or purely abstract form in his own work.

Exhibitions include Retrospective at Kaplan Gallery, London 1961; Acquavella Gallery, New York 1962 (solo); The Minories, Colchester in 1969; ‘Mexico and After’ at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff in 1979; and the Redfern Gallery in 2004. Collections held at the Tate, the British Museum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the National Museum Wales.