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John & Katharine Maltwood Collection

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John & Katharine

Early Sculpture - Part 6: Contemporary Style

These early works show the origins of Katharine Maltwood's artistic philosophy in the Arts and Crafts tradition. As John Maltwood later recalled, "Katharine worked for the joy of working and lived to create beauty."26 There is a marked preference for content and literary interest with didactic intentions beyond aesthetic expression. She was often directly inspired by quotations and in the use of texts to accompany the works hoped to more fully convey their philosophical meaning. From the stylistic point of view this was a formative period. The functional approach of the craftsman can be seen in her architectural reliefs which show an austere compactness of form and respect for the nature of the medium. The influence of Italian Renaissance traditions can be seen in her religious works, while her bronze figures owe much to the work and technique of Rodin.

In addition Katharine Maltwood uses stylistic details and motifs common to the historical repertoire of the period. In the first decade of the twentieth century all Europe was obsessed with an interest in the exotic. Oriental art, Japanese prints, East Indian figurines, primitive work, and ancient Egyptian and Assyrian art were all looked on as a source of inspiration. The simple and harmonious life of a preindustrial age embodied in these work appealed to many of the younger artists in the Western Symbolist tradition. In addition primitive and archaic art were admired for their intensive expressiveness, clarity of structure and simplicity of technique and were used as a force against the classical concept of beauty.

As a result around 1900 archaic and severe styles became popular in modern sculpture with solid forms and clearly defined volumes. In architectural sculpture this was partly to meet with the demands of the broad, flat areas of stone work found in contemporary buildings. Broad planes, simple masses and bold treatment were needed to blend with the architectural setting.

Night, by Jacob Eptstein, 1929, courtesy of the London Transport Authority.
by Jacob Epstein, 1929
Courtesy of the London Transport Authority

These aspects of early twentieth century sculpture can be found in many of Katharine Maltwood's contemporaries. For instance, she was often referred to as the "Epstein among women" because of the strong rough-hewn and angular qualities in her work. Jacob Epstein was an American, who, after studying in Paris from 1902-5, settled and worked in England for the remainder of his life. The new approach can be seen in his figures of Night and Day for the London Underground Railway Offices building of 1929. Due to their bold and rugged handling the works caused an outcry at the time and Epstein was seen as a leader in the rebellion against sentimental academism. He related the groups directly to their settings by giving them blunt and simplified designs with solid masses, flat surfaces and angular contours.

Epstein was continually inspired by the process of generation and the idea of motherhood as revealed in his early Mother and Child from the Strand statues of 1908 and the Maternity of 1911. The latter is shown like a goddess, with closed eyes and the calm of a Buddha in meditation. In theme and approach there is a similarity to the silent, brooding mother figures in Katharine Maltwood's Magna Mater and Canada Monument.

After 1910 the influence of Egyptian, Oriental and African sculpture became evident in his work as can be seen in the figure of Night and Day. One of the earliest examples of this was his Tomb of Oscar Wilde from 1912, for which he carved a winged angel in full flight wearing the Seven Deadly Sins as a diadem. In his book on Epstein, Richard Buckle wrote "The angel's face with its closed, slanting eyes, high cheek bones and protruding lower lips seem Mongolian; the rigid rendering of the limbs is Egyptian, while the highly formalized but meticulously detailed wings, whose rectangular shape respects and emphasizes the original cubic form of the stone block, recalls the great Assyrian winged bulls from Khorsabad in the British Museum."27 As with Epstein, Katharine Maltwood's later works increasingly reveal the use of primitive, Egyptian and Oriental art as a source.

Of other contemporary English sculptors Alec Miller and Richard Garbe are comparable to Katharine Maltwood in style and outlook. Alec Miller worked in plaster, wood, alabaster and stone and executed many architectural works as well as portraits, statuettes and crucifixes. He was a devoted follower of Arts and Crafts principles especially in the honest expression of the nature of his materials.

Richard Garbe also worked in a wide variety of materials and apart from statues, reliefs and architectural work in plaster and bronze, he made ivory carvings for pieces of craft work such as clocks, mirrors and caskets. An ivory bound prayer book by Garbe in the Maltwood collection suggests the couple's admiration for his work. He carved directly in marble and onyx and in style favoured primitive and Egyptian characteristics. This can be seen for instance in his black marble Mask of a Woman from 1916. In the following year he produced one of his most impressive pieces of ivory carving, the triptych Venus Victrix. In the central panel a goddess stands erect with small panels of cupids on either side and above a transverse panel of an extended woman's figure. His versatility is also shown in works such as the mahogany group The Idol of 1921 and A Dryad, in ivory, from 1925 which reveals the delicate sinuous forms of Art Nouveau. In both theme and approach these and other works by Garbe share many of the characteristics found in Katharine Maltwood's art.

Abroad the work of the German and Austrian Secessionist schools is of interest in this context. The appreciation of English art and craft ideas and the functional approach to sculpture can be seen in much of their work. For instance the architectural sculpture of Franz Metzner shows powerful figures with massive simplicity and austerity in design. They are consciously organic, seeming to grow out of the structure themselves. Like his English contemporaries Metzner turned to primitive and medieval art for inspiration in his forms and was an important influence on younger sculptors in Central Europe.

Caryatid or Angel, by Ivan Mestrovic, Courtesy of the Musée National de Belgrade.
Caryatid or Angel
by Ivan Mestrovic
Courtesy of the Musée National de Belgrade

Katharine Maltwood greatly admired the work of Metzner's pupil, Ivan Mestrovic. A Yugoslavian, Mestrovic reflected the Yugoslav liberation movement in much of his sculpture which shows profound patriotic and religious emotions. In subject matter he was something of a mystic concerned with inner vision and the search for profound truths. The caryatids and angels in his mausoleums at Cavtat and Octavice, on the Dalmation Coast, are comparable in style and approach to Katharine Maltwood's works. Solemn and cult like they reveal a preference for compact form in their elongated bodies and crossed wings. The figures are organically integrated with the architecture and often take the form of a structural support. As in many of his works they create a powerful expression of his personal beliefs and devout religious faith.



All content on this page is copyright © 30 January, 2006
Rosemary Brown, the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, and the University of Victoria

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