The source of Paolozzi's Newton Figure is the 1795 colour print of Isaac Newton by William Blake (Tate Britain) which shows the seated Newton measuring the universe under the ocean with a pair of dividers. Paolozzi developed the idea in 1987 concurrently with a commission he received from the National Portrait Gallery to make a portrait sculpture of the British architect Richard Rogers. In fact so simultaneously conceived and interrelated were the two sculptures that an early plaster and wood version of the crouching 'Newton' bears the head of Rogers, an assemblage which both the Portrait Gallery and Paolozzi considered unworkable as a portrait of the celebrated architect. No bronze versions of Newton were cast in time for the exhibition Paolozzi Portraits, which opened at the National Portrait Gallery on 13 May 1988, so only versions made of plaster and wood were included. Plaster and wood models were also shown in the Royal Academy summer exhibition that year. The genesis of the Newton figure and its place in the context of Paolozzi's development as a sculptor are discussed in detail in the catalogue to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition.
There are three principal free-standing variants of Newton in bronze. The first, a small study of Newton seated in contrapposto, is modelled in the expressive asymmetric manner of Canova's terracotta sketches; it was never developed as an independent sculpture. The second bronze is the present one, which contrasts strongly with the first, and shows Newton as a nude figure in the neoclassical style of Flaxman, with whose sculpture Paolozzi was familiar from frequent visits he made to the Soane Museum in London. The body of the third version has the robotically jointed and fragmented anatomy of Paolozzi's late signature style, although it was not necessarily the third to be created and may in fact have preceded the nude neoclassical model. However, it was the 'third' version which was admired by Paolozzi's old friend the architect Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson whose British Library was then under construction, and who asked Paolozzi to develop Newton on a monumental scale for the forecourt of his building; the sculpture was cast by Morris Singer in 1994-1995 and unveiled on 10 September 1997. A bronze double-life size edition of four casts based on the 'third' version also dates from 1988; one cast, The Concept of Newton, is in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong, a second entitled Master of the Universe is in the grounds of the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh. Further bronze table-size variants of the principal models were made after 1988. They differ in detail, size and proportion, such as in the design of the seat, still life, dividers, eyes, anatomy; and are variously titled Newton, Newton after Blake, etc. Bronze and uneditioned plaster reliefs of Newton in various formats also followed after 1988. Some in plaster are washed with colour and were conceived as souvenirs to give to friends after the British Library sculpture became widely known in 1997.
We are very grateful to Robin Spencer for providing this catalogue entry.