In 1954, Anthony Caro moved back to London, having spent the previous two years in Much Hadham working as an assistant to Henry Moore. By 1955, he was teaching at St. Martin’s and making his own work in the garage attached to his Hampstead home. In August, he made his professional debut, aged 31, contributing two works to a group show at the ICA. In 1956, he was given his first solo exhibition in Milan, which was soon followed by a second at Gimpel Fils in January 1957, where this sculpture was one of 16 exhibited.
Between 1953 and 1959, Caro’s work focused mainly on single figures performing everyday actions – putting on clothes, smoking, waking up - their proportions imaginatively distorted to express how an action felt, rather than how it looked. Caro explained ‘My figurative sculptures were to do with what it is like to be inside the body. That means, what it’s like to be sitting in this chair or lying flat downs, how it feels to smile. For example, when you’re lying down, you feel heavy, your weight causes you to feel flattened and pressed down.’
The sculptor’s interest in physical sensation was reflected in his equally sensuous approach to materials. Working with clay and plaster, always with a view to casting in bronze, he later mixed in stones and bits of found objects. Seeking to animate the clay, he would drop it from a height, incorporating the impacted pieces into the figures. The pitted irregular surface of Woman Arranging Her Hair I (Spring), can be seen, in part, as a reaction against the smooth and curvilinear forms of Moore. Caro’s figures bear some relation to the work being made by his contemporaries, for example Kenneth Armitage’s Woman Lying on Her Back, 1955, although Caro’s figures are more brutal, abject even, and so are perhaps more aligned with Germaine Richier and Jean Dubuffet.
Ian Barker notes that Caro drew upon specific paintings by Picasso as a reference for his sculptures, identifying the oil La Toilette, 1906, as the reference for this particular work. The pose here is also markedly similar to a bronze by Degas, made c.1895 – 1910, which has the same titles as Caro’s sculpture, and in which the figures raised arms make the same distinctive angles in the air. Here, both the abstract qualities of the figure – the circles and triangles from which she is composed – and the way she topples over the edge of the base, anticipated the abstract steel sculpture Caro pursued after 1959.
Nat Hapler, H.C.E Gallery Provincetown, Massachusetts, usa
Vera G. List, acquired from the above in March 1961
Private Collection, UK, acquired 2003
London, Gimpel Fils, Paintings by Redvers Taylor, Sculpture
by Anthony Caro, January 1957, cat no.33, not illus
New York, Visual Arts Museum, 1975, details untraced