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1947 A Staffordshire Spring

Explore the 1947 catalogue

The Summer Exhibition of 1947 displayed the work of twelve Midlands artists, five of whom were sculptors.1 This artistic cohort originated from the renowned Staffordshire Potteries region.2 Of the exhibits in general, one critic alluded to early signs “that artists as a whole have recovered from their post-war malaise”.3 The most significant of the Summer Exhibition sculptures was Spring by Arnold Machin, which was privileged to be located in the Wohl Central Hall and selected for purchase under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest.4 Described in the journal Pottery and Glass, the sculpture portrayed a “firmly modelled figure symbolizing the season of renewal [which] hints at the fruitfulness of Nature”.5 Inspired by a passion for the Italian Renaissance and mimetic of The Birth of Venus (1482–1485) painted by Sandro Botticelli, Machin’s curvaceous Spring stepped lightly out of a small shell (Fig. 1).6 However, Machin’s maiden also bore a strong semblance to William Blake’s Eve Tempted by the Serpent (1799–1800) represented in the angle of the face, the tilt of the head, and the pose of the left arm supporting the torso (Fig. 2). Flanking Machin’s central figure, the fulsome rendering of two attendant cherubs were reminiscent of the fallen Adam placed to the right of Blake’s composition. In acknowledging this inspiration, Machin later asserted that: “Blake continued to influence me all my life”.7

The precarious technical challenge of firing Spring was undertaken by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, although at that time terracotta works of such scale rarely survived the final stages of production.8 The model had “fired well”, however, cold air was permitted to rush into the kiln forcing uneven contractions, consequently pieces had “shaled off down the legs and body but the head had been completely blown off”.9 Collecting the shattered fragments, Machin set about repairing his sculpture by inserting an iron bar to remount the head, then refilling all of the missing limbs with plaster and cement, which he likened to a “three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle”.10 Remarkably, given the sculpture’s re-assembly, it was testament to the quality of Machin’s reconstruction that Spring was chosen for the Chantrey Collection. However, resonant with the post-war ethos of “make do and mend”, the painter Laura Knight—who also hailed from the Midlands—presented for display at the same Summer Exhibition, No 1 Dressing Room, a canvas which had similarly been substantially repaired.11

A year after his nomination in 1946, Machin was elected as an Associate of the Academy on 24 April 1947. Consequently, the purchase of Spring, ratified by the Academy’s Council on 1 May 1947, was transacted shortly after his election and prior to the opening of the Summer Exhibition on 3 May 1947.12 Machin directly attributed the submission and accession of Spring with his election to the Academy “as a result of this I was elected an A.R.A. and was able to exhibit work there regularly at the Summer Exhibition.”13 He was also grateful for the “enormous sum” of £1,000 that he received for the acquisition of his sculpture.14 Indeed by comparison, in 1940, his Royal College of Art graduation piece Mother and Child (1940), had been purchased by Charles Wheeler for the sum of only £15, which Machin had considered to be “quite a good amount at that time”.15 Spring was acclaimed by regional newspapers as “magnificent”, although this Chantrey purchase was factually recorded without superlatives by the metropolitan press.16

Machin considered the motif of his sculptures to be highly distinctive and commented, “I never signed any of my work ... I feel that an artist’s work should be instantly recognisable by his style.”17 Two of Machin’s more typically biblical classical sculptures had already been acquired: a youthful representation of St. John the Baptist (ca .1944) and The Annunciation (Two Figures) (ca. 1944), both of which had been purchased by the Tate in 1944. However, as the Director of the Tate, John Rothenstein’s lengthy missive in The Times, written after the purchase of Spring, reminded readers that the Tate was the reluctant custodian and exhibitor of the Chantrey Collection, a situation which “has proved unsatisfactory to the Tate”.18 This observation signalled the aesthetic fissure between the Academy and the Tate that would rupture a few years later, dramatising the mid-twentieth-century war of taste between the “old fashioneds” and the “moderns”.19 Yet in the twenty-first century, Spring was selected by a successive Tate Britain’s Director, Penelope Curtis, for inclusion in the 2001 exhibition Single Form: The Body in Sculpture from Rodin to Hepworth.20

Machin became a loyal and long-serving Master of the Academy’s Sculpture School (1959–1966), while continuing an extensive professional practice with the Wedgwood and Royal Worcester companies. Ultimately, though, Machin’s “firmly held” opposition to the Academy’s controversial sale of the Leonardo Da Vinci cartoon The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist (1499–1500) for financial reasons in 1962 caused him to angrily depart from an Academy Council meeting, declaring “I shall never come back into this building!”.21 While he continued to attend the Sculpture School, Machin did not return to the galleries of Burlington House.22 Importantly, Machin’s work undertook a functional familiarity in twentieth-century Britain when his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, still adhering to academic preferences, was minted for Britain’s decimal coinage (1964–1984).23 The British Stamp Advisory Committee also selected Machin’s “Dressed Head” (with crown) portrait of Her Majesty for the definitive issue of British postage stamps released on 5 June 1967; this design, which remained essentially unchanged for forty years, became an icon of the twentieth century, printed on over 175 billion stamps.24 Although Machin received an OBE in 1965 for the coin portrait, given his unsigned works, he became possibly “the most famous artist you’ve never heard of”, even though Machin was honoured when his own portrait graced stamps issued in 2007 to celebrate his iconic image of Queen Elizabeth II.25

  1. Anon, “Midland Artists Impress”, The Nottingham Journal, 3 May 1947, 6. The five Midlands sculptors were: Robert Kiddey, A.L. Loewental, Arnold Machin, H.R. Stone, and James Woodford.↩︎

  2. Anthony Oliver, Staffordshire Pottery: The Tribal Art of England (London: William Heinemann, 1981). Also see Christian Kirkpatrick, “Potteries of Staffordshire”, (accessed 28 April 2018).↩︎

  3. A. Tindell-Hopwood, “The Royal Academy, 1947”, Nature 159, no. 4049 (1947): 764–765.↩︎

  4. Royal Academy Council Minutes, 1 May 1947, 172, Royal Academy Archive, RAA/PC/1/28. The Council progressed the Chantrey purchase with nine votes for and none against.

    Machin’s other notable Summer Exhibition works in 1947 were the biblically themed Mary Magdalene, together with Angela; both sculptures were exhibited in the Lecture Room.↩︎

  5. Anon, “Arnold Machin A.R.A. Ceramic Sculptor”, Pottery and Glass 25, no. 8 (8 August 1947): 25–28.↩︎

  6. Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (1445–1510) was better known as Sandro Botticelli: the nickname “Botticelli” (derived from the word “botticello” meaning “small wine cask”); “Sandro Botticelli”, (accessed 10 May 2017).↩︎

  7. For seven years, from the age of fourteen, Machin was apprenticed to Minton Pottery, where he discovered the work of the quintessentially English artist William Blake, in the company’s reference library; Arnold Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon: The Memoirs of Arnold Machin RA (Norfolk: Frontier Publishing, 2010), 30 and 41.↩︎

  8. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 96.↩︎

  9. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 96.↩︎

  10. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 96.↩︎

  11. No 1 Dressing Room (1947) was previously known as Dressing for the Ballet (1927). The painting was so damaged during an America tour that the artist completely repainted the original, which, in so doing, became a different composition and was therefore permitted to be re-exhibited under a new title.↩︎

  12. Royal Academy Archive, Council Minutes, 1 May 1947, 172, RAA/PC/1/28.↩︎

  13. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 97.↩︎

  14. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 97. The sum of £1,000 would be equivalent to approximately £37,000 in 2018. Bank of England, Inflation Calculator, (accessed 27 April 2018).↩︎

  15. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 63. The sum of £15 would be equivalent to approximately £800 in 2018.↩︎

  16. Anon, “Boundaries: New Names in the Old Plan. Derby His First Patron”, Derby Evening Telegraph, 3 June 1947, 3. See also, Anon, “Royal Academy Purchases”, The Times, 14 May 1947, 7.↩︎

  17. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 139.↩︎

  18. John Rothenstein, “The Tate, 1897–1947”, The Times, 21 July 1947, 5.↩︎

  19. Max Chapman, “Art and Artists”, What’s On in London, 18 May 1956, np. Royal Academy Archives press cuttings.↩︎

  20. Richard Dorment, “Single Form, Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain, Review”, The Telegraph, 23 May 2011, (accessed 27 April 2018).↩︎

  21. Machin, MACHIN Artist of an Icon, 126.↩︎

  22. It is perhaps for this reason that unusually Machin’s retrospective was held in the Royal Academy Schools from 17 July to 3 August 2001, rather than in the main galleries of Burlington House.↩︎

  23. Michael Sedgwick, “Arnold Machin”, (accessed 6 March 2017). Anne Pimlott Baker, “Machin, Arnold: (1911–1999)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/72096 (accessed 6 March 2017).↩︎

  24. Postal Heritage, “Arnold Machin—the Man Behind the Icon”, (accessed 6 March 2017).↩︎

  25. Marcus Binney, “The Most Famous Artist You’ve Never Heard Of”, Country Life, 26 July 2001, 30. See also Arnold Machin, “Did You Know?: Arnold Machin—the Sculptor of the ‘Queen’s Head’ was Born in Stoke-on-Trent”, The Potteries, (accessed 6 March 2017); and Richard Alleyne, “Arnold Machin Plaster Cast Used for Image of Queen on Stamps is Found”, The Telegraph, 3 September 2008, ( (accessed 6 March 2017).↩︎

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Explore the 1947 catalogue