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Post-War Works - Part 6: The Studio at Kensington

M964.1.358, Aspiration or Plucking Feathers from the Eagle's Tail, by Katharine Maltwood, 1922.
Aspiration or Plucking Feathers from the Eagle's Tail
by Katharine Maltwood, 1922

In 1924 Katharine Maltwood won success at the British Exhibition, Wembley when two works, The Mills of God and Aspiration, were awarded diplomas.The latter also went under the title Plucking Feathers from the Eagle's Tail and was inspired by the famous lines from Browning's Andrea del Santo, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" A bronze relief, it attracted attention due to its daring and original conception. Critics were struck by the curious Z-shaped figure with its outstretched arms suggestive of flight. In style the figure reveals the organic, Rodinesque qualities of her pre-war works.

Three years later another new piece appeared. The Daily Sketch published an illustration of Mirage which according to the caption depicted "a traveller hypnotized by the spirit of the desert." Again the experience of her travels is displayed together with the expression of philosophical thought. In contrast to Aspiration, here the Art Deco and Cubist forms suggest her awareness of current artistic trends. Katharine Maltwood's last work of significance seems to have been a bronze monument of oriental inspiration, The Path of Enlightenment, which was exhibited by the Royal Academy in 1929. The artist was then fifty one. The composition may well have been inspired by a verse, referring to the Buddha's enlightenment, which she marked off in Dr. Suzuki's Essays on Zen Buddhism:

As on a crag, on crest of mountain standing,
A man might watch the people far below,
E'n so do thou, O Wisdom fair, ascending,
O Seer of all, the terraced heights of Truth,
Look down, from grief released, upon the nations,
Sunken in grief, oppressed with birth and age.
Arise thou Hero! Conqueror in the battle!
Thou freed from debt! Lord of the pilgrim band!
Walk the world o'er, and sublime and blessed Teacher!
Teach us the Truth; there are those who'll understand.

The climax to Katharine Maltwood's career as a sculptress had come two years previously in 1927 when she held an exhibition in her Castlewood Studio in London. The studio was situated on a narrow, mews-like lane off Kensington High Street and, according to one report, appeared from the front as a tiny house, only remarkable for its fresh paint. Once inside, however, one found oneself in an enormous lofty room with a square gallery above and a little garden beyond. It was here Katharine Maltwood exhibited sixteen pieces of sculpture in October 1927.

Katharine Maltwood's Studio at Kensington.
Katharine Maltwood's Studio at Kensington

The interior effects, created to enhance the sculptural exhibits, gave the studio a mystical atmosphere and critics wrote of "A Bizarre Exhibition." It was described by the Daily Express art critic in 1927 as follows:

Imagine a huge studio divided into shrines by gold curtains from ceiling to floor, and in every shrine a statue recalling some mystic idol of the East carved in stone or alabaster or cast in bronze and you have some idea of the effect of this strange exhibition as one enters. The studio also contains an organ and a gallery for string quartets. The electric lights are concealed in oriental lamps.

The artist undoubtedly now conceived of her works as "shrines" and of her studio as a "temple" guiding the way to spiritual truth. This is indicated not only in press reports but also in private correspondence. After viewing the studio a friend, Katharine Spencer, wrote in gratitude that "the sculptures carry their message strongly to those who understand." She concluded "I think of your studio now as a sort of temple where groping souls may come to be helped and to be drawn nearer the light." Katharine Maltwood underlined the latter since it was precisely how she wished her works and studio to be understood.



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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