Anthony Caro
Biography of British Abstract Sculptor.

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Sun Feast (1969) Private Collection

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Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013)

The English artist Sir Anthony Caro was one of the most influential British abstract sculptors of the 20th and 21st century. A former assistant of the sculptor Sir Henry Moore, Caro is known for his large steel sculpture, often painted in bright flat colours. In his mature works he included references to the grand sculptural traditions of Western art, from Classicism to the Baroque. He taught part-time at St Martins School of Art in London for over 25 years (1953-79), and helped to initiate a new school of British abstract sculpture. A key figure in Modern British sculpture, Caro remains one of the most innovative 20th century sculptors of the late modernist era.

Early Life

Caro was born in 1924, Surrey, England. He attended a local school until 1942 and then studied engineering at Christ College, Cambridge. Like the American sculptor David Smith, Caro would later find the technical skills he learned in engineering, useful for his art. During the holidays he attended Farnham School of Art, where he worked in the studio of the sculptor Charles Wheeler (who was the first sculptor to hold the Presidency of the Royal Academy). In 1946 Caro briefly attended the Regent Street Polytechnic, and studied sculpture with Geoffrey Deeley. A year later he entered the Royal Academy and was tutored by Maurice Lambert, Irish sculptor F.E. McWilliam, Alfred Frank Hardiman and Siegfried Charoux. He received a traditional training at the Royal Academy, copying Greek, Etruscan, Romanesque and Gothic sculpture. He was awarded medals for clay figure modelling, carving and composition.

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First Sculptures

In 1951 Caro worked as an assistant to the sculptor Henry Moore, while also continuing to draw models at the Academy. In 1953 he began teaching part time at St Martin's school of Art. His students included David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Gilbert & George, Phillip King, Brower Hatcher, Peter Hide and Hamish Fulton. Caro helped to reorganise the art department and combined drawing and sculpture into a single class with a view to understanding a subject rather than recording it. Always seeking to push boundaries, Caro starting making heavy modelled clay, plaster and bronze figures in reaction against the more traditional style encouraged by the Academy. Examples include Man Holding His Foot (1954), Man Taking Off His Shirt (1955, exhibited at the Venice Biennale) and Pulling on a Girdle (1950s) - the works are clumsy, amusing, and deliberately flout the notion of how we relate to sculpture. In 1955, two of Caro's figurative sculptures were included in a group exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. The following year, he had his first solo exhibition at the Galleria del Naviglio, Milan, which showed 20 of his sculptures, primarily expressionist figures. In 1957 Caro has his first one-man exhibition in London at the Gimpel Fils Gallery. In 1959 he showed at the Paris Biennale for young artists, and was awarded a prize for sculpture. In the same year, the Tate Gallery bought one of Caro's works, Woman Waking Up (1955).


Change of Style

In 1959 Caro travelled to the States and met the abstract sculptor David Smith. Smith's influence led Caro to abandon figuration and instead he started constructing abstract sculptures out of steel, which were welded together and sometimes painted. He also worked with bronze, silver, lead, wood, paper and stone. Caro's first important piece of 3-D abstract art, made in 1961, was Twenty Four Hours (Tate Modern, London). The same year he created his first polychrome sculpture, Sculpture Seven. Despite his prolific output up to this point, Caro only came to public attention in 1963 with his extensive one-man show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Sculptures included in the show were Twenty Four Hours; Sculpture Seven; Early One Morning (1962); Month of May (1963) and Pompadour (1963). His works at this time were brightly painted, standing directly on the ground (without a base), which allowed the viewer more immediate access. By removing sculpture from its plinth, Caro was breaking new ground, although David Smith and Brancusi had also taken steps in the same direction.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist abstract sculptors like Anthony Caro, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Fame and Recognition

From the 1960s onwards Caro's reputation was firmly established. Between 1964-5 he had important one-man shows in New York (Andre Emmerich Gallery), Washington DC (Washington Gallery of Modern Art) and London (Tate). For the next decade he visited the States several times a year, usually working for a month at a time. In 1966 he exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, with the painters Bernard Cohen, Richard Smith, Harold Cohen and Robyn Denny. Caro's fame spread and he widened the range of his work. He began to make small sculptures using handles which came out over the edge of a table, he called them Table Sculptures. He also created larger sculptural towers that are part architecture, part sculpture. In 1969 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Hayward Gallery, London, consisting of fifty works made between 1954 and 1968.

Sculptural Developments

In the 1970s, Caro starting purchasing large agricultural machinery parts, including plough parts and propeller blades, and integrated them into this works: Sun Feast (1969, Private Collection) and Orangerie (1969, Private Collection). The machinery parts are recognisable items, which create an illusion of familiarity, yet the abstract form of the sculpture is purely expressive. He began waxing and varnishing the steel structures, as in The Bull (1970). Another important work was Tundra (1975, Tate). He continued to spend periods of times in America, working at American abstract painter Kenneth Noland's studio in Vermont. In the last two decades Caro has continued to develop his style. He has experimented with small 'writing pieces', calligraphic sculptures made from steel often including other utensils. He has made sculptures with handmade paper, ceramics and painted acrylic on canvas (at Helen Frankenthaler's studio in New York). In 1986 Caro created After Olympia (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), his largest sculpture to date. In 1991 he created several examples of what he dubbed Sculpitecture (eg. Tower of Discovery).


Over the next few decades, Caro expanded what he termed the 'language of sculpture', as both an artist and an influential teacher at St Martin's School of Art. He encouraged students to test and push the boundaries of their work, as he has done in his own. The Museum of Modern Art, New York held a retrospective exhibition of his works in 1975, which travelled to the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, the Museum of Fine Art, Houston and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Caro has also had major retrospectives at the Trajan Markets, Rome (1992); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1995); and Tate Britain, London (2005), where he showed his gigantic sculpture The Last Judgement (1995-9, Collection Wurth, Kunzelsau). In 2008 he also had his first solo exhibition at the Hillsboro Fine Art Gallery, Dublin.

Awards and Recognition

Like his British contemporary Henry Moore, Caro has served as a model of professionalism, through a combination of energetic work and the creation of a productive relationship with the art world. He has received copious awards, including the Praemium Imperiale for Sculpture in Tokyo in 1992 and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sculpture in 1997. He was awarded honorary degrees from universities in Europe, the United States and the UK. He received a Knighthood in 1987 and the Order of Merit in 2000. He died in October 2013.

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