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1951 The Pedestrian

The Austrian émigré Siegfried Charoux exhibited seventy-two sculptures and sixty-two pen sketches, oil and watercolour paintings at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibitions between 1940 and 1968 (Fig. 1). After his arrival in London, having fled the sweep of Fascism through his home of Vienna in 1935, Charoux’s work lost the restrained European elegance inspired by his known influences of Rodin, Kolbe, and Maillol.1 Developing a distinctive angularity and dynamism, as Waissenberger observed of his later works: “Charoux’s figures do not always conform to natural proportions. They have their own laws and are in no way products of geometry.”2

Explore the 1951 catalogue

Demonstrating the transition of his practice, in 1951, Siegfried Charoux exhibited three works of varied scale and statement: Evensong (1944), The Islanders (1951), and The Pedestrian (1951); they were each displayed in remarkably different locations. Evensong, a charming depiction of three nude male choristers, was exhibited in the pastoral setting of the Open-Air Exhibition of Sculpture at Battersea Park.3 Among the most well-known of the South Bank sculptures, The Islanders, exhibited at the Festival of Britain on the Sea and Ships Pavilion, was symbolic of Britain’s stoicism during the Second World War and the nation’s optimism for the future. The Islanders was demolished when the Festival of Britain closed in September 1951.4

While in the decorous galleries of the Academy’s Summer Exhibition, Charoux’s “gigantic figure” of The Pedestrian marked a definitive shift towards the sculptural abstract aesthetic which had been so obviously lacking in previous Academy exhibitions (Fig. 2).5 The sheer substance and characterisation of this larger-than-life sculpture stood metaphorically juxtaposed to the skeletal anonymity of Giacometti’s Walking Man (1947) and Man Walking in the Rain (1948) created only a few years earlier.6 Yet both Charoux’s and Giacometti’s work shared a universal familiarity of form and the thematic generality of an “ordinary man”. Charoux’s The Pedestrian, therefore, commuted the democratic ideology of the Festival of Britain from the South Bank of the Thames into the Central Hall of the Academy.

Charoux’s influence upon the Academy was to be a visual revolution as he progressively gained a confident sense of his new British identity.7 Traditionally the Academy’s sculptural offerings had relied heavily upon the appeal of the female nude. Referring to that summer’s paintings, the art critic Peter Watts noted: “the nymphs have departed and left no addresses”; his observation was just as relevant for sculpture.8 Charoux’s extraordinary contribution to the Summer Exhibition introduced a different genre, that of the ordinary citizen, conceived beyond the recumbent disrobed females and the formality of military or Establishment male portrait busts. The Pedestrian—now presumed lost—may therefore be considered an inspired yet recognisable motif and an important juncture for sculpture exhibited at the Academy.

Developed from a series of preliminary pen and ink sketches, watercolours and acrylic paintings and a group maquette of four pedestrians (two adult male figures, a woman, and a child); the preparation for this largest The Pedestrian sculpture also included an acrylic on wood painting of monochromatic and sepia tones. The Pedestrian may be read as masculine synthesis of uncertain self-esteem at a time of acute economic austerity, despite the exceptionally low post-war British unemployment rates.9 A civic theme portraying shrewd observation of British twentieth-century culture, this sculpture characterised a powerful standing man. The strong jaw line of the face conveyed an affirmation towards the influence of Cubism. The loosened tie and jaunty gait revealed the early Americanisation of British metropolitan man. Dressed in a casually worn demobilisation suit and sporting a Homburg hat, as popularised by Sir Winston Churchill, this iconographic standard issue uniform was as evocative of the era as the soldiers’ greatcoats depicted in World War One memorial sculpture and the later generational shift towards the dapper Edwardian tailcoats stylised by sculptor Lynn Chadwick for Teddy Boy and Girl (1955).10

The Pedestrian was also notable for an adaptation of Charoux’s preferred medium of terracotta, towards an exploration of innovative materials that could readily and inexpensively be secured in an impoverished environment, particularly when traditional materials such as stone and wood were prioritised for construction purpose to regenerate blitzed London; accordingly, this sculpture was rendered in plaster as preparatory for a cast iron edition.11

Charoux’s election as an Associate of the Academy in 1949 had transformed his status from an “outsider” to offer social inclusion and the esteem of an artistic community.12 The monumental scale of Charoux’s sculptures in 1951 was noted by contemporary critics as being influenced by Socialist Realism, particularly the work of Austrian-German sculptor Josef Thorak, which thus identified Charoux’s work as political.13 Scholars have attributed this stylistic shift as having been: “aesthetically liberated by exile”14 and as evidence that Charoux’s “political attitude was revealed in his work” through his affinity with the proletariat.15 Although as David Astor, editor of The Observer, affirmed while he and Charoux “often discussed politics” throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Charoux was “not aligned to any one political position nor to any British political party.”16 Beyond a vehicle for overt political commentary, The Pedestrian may therefore be understood as a genuine artistic endeavour. Its ambiguity indicates how Charoux utilised the Summer Exhibition as a platform for a nuanced cultural observation of his host country.

Charoux’s urbane characterisation of The Pedestrian was not so deconstructed as to be inaccessible to the Academy’s audience. Artistically, the secular symbolism and readily interpreted simplicity of this unique sculpture invigorated subsequent Summer Exhibitions because other Academy sculptors began to exhibit their own innovative representations of figurative form. Consequently, Charoux’s reputation as an accepted academic-renegade was lauded; in 1953, appointed for the first time as a member of the Selection and Hanging Committee for that year’s Summer Exhibition, the artist prompted gleeful media anticipation that: “advance guard sculptors may feel cheered to know that their efforts will be looked after by Siegfried Charoux”.17

  1. As Charoux explains: “In my early days … I had a great love for Rodin, and was influenced by him. Then I turned to Kolbe, and later to Maillol.” Mary Sorrell, “Charoux”, Apollo 47, no. 280 (June 1948): 128–130.↩︎

  2. Robert Waissenberger, Essay: Art and Humanity—the Work of Siegfried Charoux (Vienna: Brüder Rosenbaum, 1967).↩︎

  3. Evensong was “hurled … to the ground” though “not substantially damaged” during an attack on some of the Battersea Park exhibition sculptures. Anon, “£1000 Bronze Missing from Battersea Park”, Evening Express, 24 August 1951, 8.↩︎

  4. Gillian Whiteley. “Re-Presenting Reality, Recovering the Social: The Poetics and Politics of Social Realism and Visual Arts”, in D. Tucker (ed.), British Social Realism in the Arts Since 1940 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 143.↩︎

  5. Our Art Critic, “The Royal Academy”, The Times, 5 May 1951, 7.↩︎

  6. Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: Biographie d’une oeuvre (Paris: Flammarion, 2012), 320, 322, and 580. Walking Man was exhibited at Pierre Matisse’s gallery, New York, from 19 January–14 February 1948. Walking Man in the Rain was created later in 1948, that is, after the Pierre Matisse exhibition had closed.↩︎

  7. Anon, “British Now”, The Evening Telegraph, 15 November 1946, 3.↩︎

  8. Peter Watts, “The Royal Academy”, The Tablet, 12 May 1951, 9.↩︎

  9. The pre-war July 1938 unemployment rate was 12.9 per cent; the post-war July 1951 unemployment rate had been dramatically reduced to 1.0 per cent. James Denman and Paul McDonald, “Unemployment Statistics from 1881 to the Present Day”, Labour Market Trends, 1 January 1996, 5–14, (accessed 22 May 2018).↩︎

  10. Catherine Moriarty, “‘Remnants of Patriotism’: The Commemorative Representation of the Greatcoat after the First World War”, Oxford Art Journal 27, no. 3 (2002): 291–309.↩︎

  11. Royal Academy Archive, Royal Academy Illustrated (London, 1951), no. 1169, 107.↩︎

  12. The term “outsider” in reference to those who were not elected Associates or Academicians of the Academy appears to have first been documented as: “It was resolved on the outsiders’ Varnishing Day admission should be given at 9 a.m.” Royal Academy Archives, Royal Academy of Arts Council Minutes, vol. 17, 18 April 1881, 127.↩︎

  13. The Islanders in particular had been dismissed as “the sort of thing you would see on the Russian or German pavilions”. Anon’ “Shafts from Apollo’s Bow: Crux Criticorum: A Sunday Morning Meditation”, Apollo 53, no. 316 (June 1951): 149.↩︎

  14. Sarah MacDougall, “‘Separate Spheres of Endeavour?’: Experiencing the Émigré Network in Britain, c.1933–1945”, in B. Dogramaci and K. Wimmer (eds), Netzwerke Des Exils: Künstlerische Verflechtungen Austausch und Patronage nach 1933 Conference (Munich: Gebr. Berlin: Mann Verlag, 2010), 71–89, n.46:

    Charoux wrote of himself (Kenneth Clark papers, Charoux, Siegfried 8812/1/3/646, Tate Gallery Archive) that: “in England under the influence of political freedom his style changes completely from his distorted Austrian to a more free and tranquil one”—i.e., it is “distorted” under the violent upheavals of Austrian politics and “more free and tranquil” under the less tumultuous politics of the host culture.↩︎

  15. Margaret Garlake, “A Minor Language?: Three Émigré Sculptors and Their Strategies of Assimilation”, in S. Behr and M. Malet (eds), Artists in Exile in Britain 1933–1945: Politics and Cultural Identity (New York: Rodopi, 2005), 167–200.↩︎

  16. David Astor interviewed by Penelope Curtis, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, Accession File, Maquette for the Neighbours (1957–59), 1996.↩︎

  17. Anon, “Gossip of the Day: Coronation R.A. Day”, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, 19 March 1953, 8.↩︎

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Explore the 1951 catalogue