George Claude Leon Underwood was born in London and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic, the R.C.A. and at the Slade School of Art. He worked as a sculptor, wood engraver, painter and writer. In 1921 he founded the Brook Green School of Art in Hammersmith, where pupils included Henry Moore and Eileen Agar. He served during both World Wars, as Captain in the R.E. Camouflage Section during the First World War in 1914-1918 and Civil Defence Camouflage between 1939 and 1942.
Underwood was an accomplished author of many books and he founded the magazine The Island in 1931, to which Henry Moore and C. R. W. Nevinson contributed. The study and collection of tribal art was central to his artistic and philosophical developments leading to a lifelong fascination for African, Mayan and Aztec sculpture.
A self-taught sculptor, Underwood turned gradually to this medium in the early 1920s practising both as a carver and modeller and preferring to use a ‘cold chisel’ rather than the appropriate tools.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Connecticut
Victor Batte-Lay Trust, Colchester
Notes: cast from a plaster matrix (1923), which includes a head. Cast by Parlenti (a commercial foundry in Spain)
1931 – National Society (351)
1934 – Leicester Galleries (7)
1938 – Empire Exhibition (311)
1953 – Beaux Art Gallery (1)
1962 – Acquavella Gallery (31)
1963 – Kaplan Gallery (45)
1969 – Minories (2)
1969 – Archer Gallery (54)
1970 – Arts Council, Decade 1920-30 (128)
1971 – Kemp Town Gallery (not in catalogue)
1973 – Agnew’s (not in catalogue)
1993 – Austin/Desmond (40)
1999 – Redfern Gallery (6)
2000 – Redfern Gallery (55)
Underwood believed good drawing to be the foundation of the fine and applied arts. He developed his own shorthand using linear means such as axial lines to suggest mass, rotation and movement. This ‘shorthand’ draws heavily on Hogarth’s ‘serpentine line’: a method in which the lines of both edge and surfaces become constant like a wire wrapped around a cone.
Seated Figure is a small pencil study of a female nude depicted in bold outline, with emphasis on the solid, elliptical and muscular form of the limbs, which serves to increase the sculptural effect of the composition. The figure is seated somewhat awkwardly, as if to increase the sense of rotation and movement, while her downcast gaze gives an impersonal stance to the drawing.
WHITWORTH, Ben , The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, The Sculpture of Leon Underwood, 2000
NEVE, Christopher, Leon Underwood , Thames and Hudson, 1974