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The Acrobats Double Scissored Figures

Michael Ayrton (1921-1975)


Signed and dated '56

Pencil, watercolour and bodycolour

19 ½ x 13 ½ inches

Miss V M Elliott

'Michael Ayrton: Bronzes and Drawings', The Leicester Galleries, London, March 1957, no 226;
'The Compulsive Image" Sculpture and Paintings by Michael Ayrton', Birmingham, City Museums and Art Gallery, 1977, no. 54, exhibition toured to Sheffield, Maplin Art Gallery; Ilkely, Bradford Art Gallery; Colchester, The Minories; and Sunderland, Museum and Art Gallery.

From Michael Ayrton's 'Figures in Balance' series.

The Acrobats
Having turned to sculpture in 1951, Michael Ayrton produced an astonishing series of drawings, lithographs and sculptures on the theme of 'figures in balance during the period between 1954 and 1958. Many of these – including the present work – were exhibited in a well-received solo show at the Leicester Galleries, in London, in March 1957. Then, in the early 1960s, Ayrton made two prototype bangles, one in gold and the other in bronze, which incorporated pairs of acrobats (the one in gold being acquired by the actress, Elizabeth Taylor).

A highly expressive writer as well as artist, Ayrton explained his fascination with the theme in a monograph that was first published in 1962:

'The first point about the figures in balance is their state of tension. They are studies in strung sinew. The second is their articulation, the third their state of equilibrium. Purely physically these factors excite me, but they also possess for me another relevance. They represent an oblique comment on the human condition - or at least upon my own. They are also ironic, since I myself am an arthritic and can neither bend my permanently rigid back nor, for the most time, move easily. I can achieve no athletic movement.' (C P Snow (foreword), Michael Ayrton: Drawings and Sculpture, London: Cory Adams & Mackay, 1962, page 25)

More recently, his biographer and step-granddaughter, Justine Hopkins, has suggested sources for these figures in movement.

'He did not use models but drew and sculpted from his prodigious memory and the sketchbooks he had filled over the years with the antics of Tuscan street urchins and Neapolitan fisherboys; the flair of Parisian circus performers and the deft manoeuvres of the Provençal bull-runners.' (
Michael Ayrton: a biography, London:
André Deutsch, 1994, pages 198-199)

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