FE McWilliam
Biography of Irish Surrealist Sculptor From County Down.

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FE McWilliam (1909-1992)

FE McWilliam was an Irish surrealist sculptor, who worked mainly in stone, bronze and wood. He constantly changed his style and subject throughout his career, but is perhaps best known for his 'Women of Belfast' series of Irish sculptures from 1971, which reflected the escalation of violence in Northern Ireland at the time. There are 20 pieces in the series, several of which show women flying through the air after a bomb explosion.

McWilliam was born in Banbridge, County Down in 1909, the son of a local doctor. He studied fine art painting at the Belfast School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art in London between 1928 and 1931, before transitioning to sculpture in the early 1930s.


Best Known Sculptures

Legs Static, Banbridge, Co.Down

Eyes, Nose and Cheek, Tate Museum
London (1939)

Cain And Abel (1952), Tate Museum.

Woman In Blast (1974)

His early wood carving works were influenced by primitive art, in particular by African art and by the almost primeval simplicity of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi's works. An early example of this style is McWilliam's 'Figure' (1937, British Government Art Collection).

From 1936 onwards, his works gradually became more influenced by Surrealism and he was loosely associated with the British Surrealist movement. His work 'Eye Nose and Cheek' (1939, Tate Gallery, London) is an important piece from this time, as it demonstrates the artist's interest in the interplay between solid volume and surrounding space, and how the viewer completes the 'missing' parts of the sculpture in the mind's eye. It helped to make McWilliam one of the best known surrealist artists in Ireland.

For a list of modern artists
see: 20th Century Sculptors.

During World War II, McWilliam spent most of his service in India. When he returned, he went to teach at the Chelsea School of Art in London. At the same time he resumed work on a number of different pieces, in various media including bronze, wood, terracotta and stone.

Important commissions included The Four Seasons for the Festival of Britain (1951), Father Courage for Kent University at Canterbury, New Zealand (1960) and Hampstead Figure at Swiss Cottage, London (1964).

As the years progressed, his works tended to become more symbolic and imaginative. His 1965 Bean Sculptures, with their swollen organic forms, celebrate and satirize physical love. McWilliam tended to work in series, producing several versions of the same theme, until that theme was exhausted and then making a radical change in subject and style.

For more facts, see: Plastic Art.
For more about arts in Ireland
see: Irish Art Questions.

For a guide to the chronology
and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

For a list of the world's best ever
stone/wood carvers and bronze
artists, see: Greatest Sculptors.

The Best Plastic Art
For the most important works, see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Although he lived most of his life outside Ireland, he continued exhibiting here and maintained strong links with Irish art. He was elected Associate member of the Royal Academy in 1950 and became a full member in 1959. McWilliam died in London in 1992. He is represented in many public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. Retrospectives held at Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1981 and Tate Gallery in 1989.

In December 2006, FE McWilliam's sculpture Eve was sold for €95,000, a world record price for a piece of Irish sculpture. This record lasted until October 2009, when King and Queen by Edward Delaney sold for €190,000.

Sculpture Appreciation: Ireland
To learn how to evaluate modernist Irish sculptors like F.E.McWilliam, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

More About Sculpture

For works from Ancient Greece, see Greek Sculpture. For other important Irish sculptors, read about the neo-classical John Hogan, the Anglo-Irish John Henry Foley, the Romantic Nationalist Oliver Sheppard, the nationalist realist Albert Power, the small-scale sculptress Rosamund Praeger, the traditional stone sculptor Seamus Murphy, the Polish-Irish sculptress Alexandra Wejchert, the contemporary steel sculptor Conor Fallon, the bird artist Oisin Kelly, the public artist Eamonn O'Doherty and the figurative sculptor Rowan Gillespie.

• For more facts about sculptors and contemporary sculpture in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For information about ceramics sculpture, see: Ceramic Art.
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