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Kathleen Keel 

(Maida Vale, fl.1930s)

Seated female nude, c. late 1920s - early 1930s

modelled plaster, painted to resemble patinated bronze

signed to the base ‘KEEL’

38 x 15 x 20 cm.

This striking sculpture of a seated female nude, subtly modelled from the female gaze, more contemplative than erotic, was presumably an original maquette modelled by the artist to be cast in bronze. The model’s cropped hair is redolent of flapper fashion in the swinging ‘20s, or early ‘30s.

Little can be found out about this accomplished sculptor, other than her exhibition history at the Royal Academy in 1938 and 1939, alongside the likes of Frank Dobson, and her then address ‘107 Castellain Mansions, Castellain Rd, Maida Vale, London’ – incidentally the very same road on which the young artist-potter Waistel Cooper lived at that time. Indeed, north-west London was an artistic hot spot – not far away in Hampstead the sculptor Barbara Hepworth lived with her first husband, sculptor John Skeaping. 

It’s interesting to consider how few women at this time pursued a career as sculptors – traditionally a male domain – both on account of ‘decorum’ (general restricted access to life drawing, key to practising the human form), and the perceived masculine physicality of the role. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Royal Academy elected its first female sculptor, Dame Elizabeth Frink (1930 – 1993), as a full Academician. It was almost certainly this lack of support and recognition that led a female sculptor of talent, such as Keel, to be overlooked and then forgotten.

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