Papers of Leon Underwood

Scope and Content

The main part of the archive consists of a large number of research notes and drafts for publications and unpublished writings on art. The various topics covered are entitled 'African Art', 'Subjective Art', 'The Bronze Age', 'Bronze Casting', 'Art and Fashion', 'Art in Orbit' (on Neolithic Art), 'The Course of the Western Tradition', 'Prophet Without Honour', 'Ancient Sculpture' and 'The Siamese Cat' (published 1928). In addition there are eighteen notebooks and travel journals, and copies of the journal 'The Island', 1931, for which Underwood was art editor and contributor. Further papers comprise lectures, speeches, and letters, including correspondence with John Bunting, 1960-1969, and Underwood's correspondence with his wife, Mary. There are financial and legal papers, mainly relating to the sale and exhibition of works and Underwood's Estate, two photographs of Underwood, three sketchbooks and a small number of drawings, posters, private view cards and other printed ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

Leon Underwood (1890-1975) was born at at 145 Percy Road, Shepherd's Bush, London. He was the eldest of three sons of (Theodore) George Black Underwood, fine art dealer in prints and coins and medals. His father hoped he would join the family business but Leon wished to pursue a career as an artist.He studied first at Regent's Street Polytechnic (1907) and then at the Royal College of Art (1910-13, diploma received on a re-sit in 1914). During the war he enlisted with the Royal Horse Artillery, transferring first to the 2nd London field battery (1915), and then to the Royal Engineers (camouflage division) in 1916.In 1919 he settled in Girdler's Road. He spent a year in Henry Tonks's life class at the Slade School of Fine Art and won an ex-services scholarship which he used to travel to Iceland. Afterwards he joined the staff at the Royal College of Art and in 1921 opened his own Brook Green School of Drawing.Underwood taught himself to carve in the early 1920s and his first sculpture exhibition was held in 1924. During the 1920s he travelled to Iceland, Altamira (Spain, the USA and Mexico. He was a founder member of the Seven & Five Society, and of the National Society, but his active involvement was short-lived as he resisted regimentation.During the Second World war he served with the civil defence camouflage section at Leamington Spa. From about 1948 he began casting his won bronzes in the studio. He died at the Hostel of God, Clapham.Commissions include: tempera mural for Shell canteen, London 1954; relief panel for Commercial Development Building, Old Street, London 1955; bronze candlesticks and crucifix for Ampleforth Abbey 1958.

Access Information

Available to all registered researchers. The Archive is open by appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for consultation in the HMI archive searchroom

Archivist's Note

Archive Hub description was created by Janette Martin

Biographical information extracted from 'Mapping the practice and profession of sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951'

Related Material

The Henry Moore Archive holds other Leon Underwood accessions including:

  • Letter from Leon Underwood to Mr Wilson about the sale of a book 'Engravings for the Music from Behind the Moon', 1927, Acc. 2007.62
  • Study for 'The Swimmer' by Leon Underwood, 1925, Acc. 1983.5
  • Four studies for sculpture by Leon Underwood, 1930-1960s, Acc. 1995.27
  • Study for sculpture by Leon Underwood c. 1960, Acc. 1995.27/1
  • Study for sculpture by Leon Underwood, 1930, Acc. 1995.27/3
  • Study for sculpture by Leon Underwood, n.d., Acc. 1995.27/4
  • Drawing for sculpture extant in bronze 'Father and Son', 1963, Acc. 1995.27/2

"Family", c.1935 + 5 works on paper are in the Leeds City Art Gallery collection.

Other Leon Underwood papers are held at Tate Gallery Archive Ref: TGA 819 and Victoria & Albert Museum, Archive of Art and Design Refs: 1990/12 and AAD/1981/4


C. Neve, 'Leon Underwood', (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974).B. Whitworth, 'The Sculpture of Leon Underwood', (London: Lund Humphries/The Henry Moore Foundation, 2000).