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Man and Wife (1948)


Man and Wife is one of a number of works on a theme which occupied McWilliam for a time immediately after the Second World War. During the 1930s he had begun to make sculptures in which attention was drawn only to certain parts of the body, usually the extremities, and in which the mass of the torso was often, as here, omitted. The work of Picasso was at the time an influence on this approach as was the fact that our knowledge of objects is gained in a fragmentary manner so that we never instantly perceive all that is to be known about an object. Also, while serving in India during the war he had been intrigued by certain aspects of Indian sculpture which compelled one to view figures and objects not as autonomous images but as elements in a general cultural context. Thus after the war in his figure works he decided to omit all unnecessary parts of the body so as to leave the spectator free to fill the empty spaces according to his imagination. "The tension he has created in empty space', wrote Roland Penrose of these works, 'is bound to provoke our good-humoured participation and prove to us the simultaneous existence and non-existence of reality'. Paradoxically, these fragmented figures have about them an air of serene completion and the idea of using such fragments has recurred from time to time in McWilliam's career (cf. his 'Crossed Legs'). Other works contemporary with this one are 'Kneeling Woman', 1947, 'Kneeling Man', 1947 and 'Father and Daughter' 1949. A study in terracotta for this work was exhibited at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949