After studying at Merchant Taylors College, Lynn Chadwick originally trained as an architect and graduated in 1935. He did not become a sculptor until 1945. He was awarded the medal of Officier des Arts et Lettres by France in 1985 and was made Commandeur de Arts et Lettres in 1993. In 1953 Chadwick won and international competition for a monument dedicated to the Unknown Political Prisoner.
It is possible that Chadwick’s experience as a Fleet Air Arm pilot during World War II may have led him to develop a form of sculpture in which elements move in the air. In his early career he was content to create Mobiles for decorative use on exhibition stands. Obviously the influence of Calder at this period cannot be overestimated, although Chadwick brought to his sculptures a jerky, unexpected and therefore disturbing dynamic which is alien to Calder’s influence, producing pieces composed of a frame inside which eccentric, tooth-like bristly elements move around, giving the impression of aggressive creatures, repellent insects, disturbing animals, strange birds and silent, hostile human creatures in a series such as Strangers and Watchers, and of a more friendly nature in Dancing Figures and Encounters. All his creatures apparently human beings but with insect behaviour, constructed from frames of intersecting metal stems, their volumes filled with a variety of materials depending on the period, and which contributes to the expression of the piece. Before executing his sculpture, Chadwick made pencil sketches, the incisive nature of which foreshadows the aggressiveness of the work to come.
Chadwick’s personal development was moderate – relating only to the appearance of his creatures – and he remained faithful to the same concept of capturing space by means of a metal net that is so characteristic of his work. He is recognised, particularly in England, as one of the most important sculptors of his generation. In France he produced a monumental piece of art for the Citroën plant near Paris.
Chadwick entered the international limelight when the British Council invited him to contribute four pieces to the Venice Biennale in 1952. Critics were tremendously impressed with the show, which showcased the vitality of British sculpture and also included Armitage, Butler, Paolozzi, and Turnbull. Art critic Herbert Read, in his Exhibition of Works, pointing out that these artists had moved away from the classical serenity of earlier times, commented that "These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance" and created a "geometry of fear." Chadwick is always concerned with geometry and tension in a work and he strives to invest his pieces with a vital quality.