Term coined by the critic Herbert Read in 1952 to describe the work of a group of young British sculptors characterised by tortured, battered or blasted looking human, or sometimes animal figures

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  • Robert Adams, 'Space Construction with a Spiral' 1950

    Robert Adams
    Space Construction with a Spiral 1950
    Steel wire and wood
    object: 940 x 420 x 410 mm
    Purchased 1995 The estate of Robert Adams

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  • Henry Moore OM, CH, 'Falling Warrior' 1956-7

    Henry Moore OM, CH
    Falling Warrior 1956-7
    object: 650 x 1540 x 850 mm
    Presented by the artist 1978 The Henry Moore Foundation. This image must not be reproduced or altered without prior consent from the Henry Moore Foundation.

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  • Kenneth Armitage, 'People in the Wind' 1950

    Kenneth Armitage
    People in the Wind 1950
    object: 648 x 400 x 343 mm
    Purchased 1960 The estate of Kenneth Armitage

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Herbert Read used the phrase in a review of the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale of that year. The British contribution was an exhibition of the work of the group of young sculptors that had emerged immediately after the Second World War in the wake of the older Henry Moore. Their work, and that of Moore at that time, was characterised by spiky, alien-looking twisted and tortured figures. They were executed in pitted bronze or welded metal and vividly expressed a range of states of mind and emotions related to the anxieties and fears of the post-war period. The artists were Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. A sculpture by Moore was outside the pavilion.

Of their work Read wrote:

These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt. Here are images of flight, or ragged claws ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear.

The quotation within Read’s text is from the poet T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock. Read’s image of ‘ragged claws “scuttling” may have referred to Meadows’s Black Crab 1952.