A socialist from his youth, the artist and sculptor, Lawrence Bradshaw joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s and was politically active throughout his life. Bradshaw began his artistic career in the early 1920s as assistant to Frank Brangwyn, the humanist polymath who had himself been an assistant to William Morris. The ideals Morris had propounded fed the outlooks of the Art Workers Guild which Bradshaw later joined.
Much of his work in the inter-war years consisted of commissioned designs for sculptural decoration of public buildings such as Watford town hall (1933-4) and the Radcliffe maternity home in Oxford (1935). He was also very active as a Marxist cultural worker, organising and designing for campaigns such as Arms for Spain and celebrations of the anniversary of the Soviet revolution. Sadly, few works or records remain as his studio was bombed during World War II. The outstanding example of Bradshaw’s work is the Marx Monument in Highgate cemetery.
In 1955, the Communist Party set up the Marx Memorial fund. Laurence Bradshaw (1899-1979) was the man who won the commission to sculpt the famous brooding monument at Karl Marx’s graveside. Bradshaw viewed the commission as a tremendous honour. He designed the entire monument from plinth to the choice of texts and their calligraphy. There were practical as well as aesthetic considerations. The original family headstone had to be incorporated, the hilly site allocated was uneven and the tomb had to be protected from possible attacks. To withstand these, Bradshaw used military engineering construction methods.
Bradshaw wrote that the first problem to be grappled with was to produce “not a monument to a man only but to a great mind and a great philosopher.” Convinced that Marx “would prefer the simplest type of monument” and that “he would prefer to be on the Earth and not in the sky,” Bradshaw set the powerful head and shoulders on a body which is not described but expressed. Designing a plinth of “a shape and width that would give the same effect as Marx himself would have done if he was silhouetted against the sky,” Bradshaw set it level with the path to convey that Marx was among us and “not towering over the people.”
Although he referred to photographs when modelling the head, here too, Bradshaw aimed to go beyond description of Marx’s physiognomy, explaining that he wanted to “express the dynamic force of his intellect and the breadth and vision and power of his personality, along with a feeling of energy and endurance and dedication to purpose.” Yet these are expressed in an accessible, realist manner rather than with modernist figuration’s expressionist or surrealist distortions. The geometric shape and plain surfaces of the polished granite plinth and the simple lettering used for the texts are modernist, so that the contrast between these and the expressive but realist bronze head was an inspired solution to an aesthetic and ideological dilemma. This monument was made with conviction by a Marxist and it shows.
Like other figurative artists whose works remained clearly legible, Bradshaw’s career suffered in the 1950s. His public commitment to Marxism may well have also been detrimental, although this is difficult to establish, since the change in taste towards abstraction led to fewer commissions for all architectural sculpture. Yet this move towards abstraction was itself partly the result of the cultural cold war. What is certain is that, when the competition for the sculptural decoration of the Time-Life building in Bond Street was announced, Bradshaw, despite decades of experience in this field, was quietly advised not to enter.
Among Bradshaw’s other works were fine busts of leading communists and progressives, including the Scottish poet Hugh McDiarmid, the African-American scholar and activist Dr W E B du Bois and the Trinidadian musician and actor Edric Connor. His vivacious bust of Harry Pollitt appears to have disappeared. In the post-war period, Bradshaw worked on colourful, impassioned paintings praising peace and internationalism and condemning injustice and war. He was active in campaigns to release the Mexican Communist David Siqueiros and to revoke the US denial of passports to Paul Robeson and Du Bois. Chairman of the British Soviet Friendship Society for many years, he designed many lively covers for its magazine.
Characteristically, his best-known work, the Marx memorial, remains unsigned. Bradshaw did not seek to carve out a name for himself within the ego-dominated art world, but unassumingly used his creativity and energy to further the cause of socialism as an artist and political activist. His was a life well lived.
Christine Lindey – Morning Star 3rd April 2007