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Great Britain born 1950

Angel of the North (life-size maquette)

1996 Materials & Technique: sculptures, cast iron
Edition: no.4 from an edition of 5
Dimensions: 196.5 h x 535.0 w x 53.0 d cm ; weight 1236 kg
Acknowledgement: Gift of James and Jacqui Erskine 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.553
Image rights: © the artist

More detail

Angel of the North [life-size maquette] is a scale version one-tenth the size of Antony Gormley’s most famous sculpture, Angel of the North 1994–98. The larger work, situated adjacent to a motorway near Gateshead in Great Britain, on the site of a disused colliery, is made of steel. Another, smaller 1:20-size model was cast in bronze in 1996. All three angels comprise a featureless human figure with large wings or blades attached. The matrix of girder-like ribs recalls the framework of an early monoplane or the weld lines on a battleship.

The figure was cast from the artist’s body, with the wings developed separately using a framework of wire to plan the rib structure. In its setting in northern England, a region where coal mining dates to back to 1344, the large angel is a symbol of the toil of miners’ over many centuries. As Gormley explains in Making an angel (2002), it was designed to mark a place and ‘bridge the earth and sky through a body’.

Rooted to the ground via its plinth in the Sculpture Garden, on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, the angel stands isolated, alert and sentinel-like, its rich rust-coloured surface changing in the Canberra sunlight. Associations of crucifixion and rebirth add another layer to the dense iconography. Subtle gestures, such as the gentle angle of the wings, imply embrace and provide an overall sense of space. The lack of individual features gives the angel an air of mystery; as the artist suggests, we make things ‘because they cannot be said’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

Antony Gormley is best known for large public projects, often using his own or others’ bodies as subject matter. His most famous work is the 20-metre steel sculpture, Angel of the North  1994-98, situated near a motorway in northern England on the site of a disused colliery. The new acquisition at the National Gallery of Australia, Angel of the North (Life-size maquette), is a 1:10 model of the larger work, made of cast iron rather than steel.

The maquette is now installed in the Sculpture Garden. The sculpture is positioned at the end of a long path which stretches from Rodin’s bronzes to the lake shore. It stands silhouetted against the sky, drawing attention to the vista. Angel of the North (Life-size maquette), like the large version, uses a featureless human figure based on Gormley’s body. It is attached to a large wing or blade, shaped rather like the wing of an old monoplane. Both are marked by ribbed lines. Unlike the traditional iconography of angels, these wings are industrial in material, artificially manufactured rather than made of feathers. As well as evoking a celestial messenger, the Angel of the North recalls the human/divine sacrifice of the Crucifixion.

Gormley is the predominant figurative sculptor in Britain today. Born in London in 1950, he studied at Cambridge, then in London at the Central School of Art, Goldsmiths College and the Slade School of Art. He was awarded the Turner Prize in 1994, and appointed a Royal Academician in 2003. Gormley’s work has been included in the Venice Biennale and Biennale of Sydney, among many important international exhibitions. Blind light, a major solo show, was held at the Hayward Gallery in 2007. His career ‘has revitalised the human image in sculpture through a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation’. (Blind light 2007, jacket notes)

Angel of the North (Life-size maquette), generously given by Mr and Mrs Erskine, is one of the most significant gifts ever donated to the National Gallery of Australia.

Christine Dixon
Senior Curator International Painting and Sculpture

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra