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The original plaster relief was Kavanagh’s submission piece for the Rome Scholarship for Sculpture at the British School at Rome (1930).
The British School of Rome was an important patron of young British artists, and in 1930, John Francis Kavanagh was awarded the acclaimed Rome Prize for Sculpture; the same prize that his more famous tutor Gilbert Ledward had been awarded in 1913. This enabled him to study for three years in Italy. Workers Lifting a Steel Construction was, as good as anything of the kind by a student that Ledward had ever seen.(1)
After his return from Italy in 1934, Kavanagh was appointed Head of Department of Sculpture and Modelling at the Leeds College of Art. During this six-year period he developed his talent for architectural sculpture. He maintained a studio in Chelsea and exhibited at both the Royal Academy and in Paris. His commissions were both private and public, the most important being the sculpture for the new Walthamstow Town Hall. This included 16 panels of relief, symbolising themes of work.
In all his sculpture, Kavanagh always remained true to his materials. In stone-carving, the shape of the original block is implicit in the finished design; in modelling clay or plaster, the plasticity of the material is emphasised rather than disguised, and in medal design every element of design and lettering is perfectly balanced, often incorporating elements of antiquity. In his relief panels, the modelling becomes architectural or machine-like whilst still incorporating abrupt angles and changes of plane that are so characteristic of his more naturalistic works.
1. Kavanagh Family Papers