F. E. McWilliam

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Frederick Edward McWilliam CBE RA (30 April 1909 – 13 May 1992), was a Northern Irish surrealist sculptor, born in Banbridge, County Down. He worked chiefly in stone, wood and bronze.


McWilliam was born in Banbridge, Ireland, the son of Dr William McWilliam, a local general practitioner. Growing up in Banbridge had a great influence on his work, he made references to furniture makers such as Carson the Cooper and Proctors in his letters to his friend, Marjorie Burnett.

He attended Campbell College in Belfast and later attended Belfast College of Art from 1926. After 1928, he continued to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he later taught. During the first year of the Second World War, he joined the Royal Air Force and was stationed in England where he was engaged in interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs. Even during this time he was still able to exhibit and teach art.

Commissions included the Four Seasons Group for the Festival of Britain exhibition in 1951. McWilliam exhibited at Waddington Galleries, London, and had a major retrospective show at the Tate Gallery in 1989.

Sculpture: Reclining Figure
Reclining Figure, located in the grounds of Queen's University Belfast

In 1964 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Queen's University Belfast. In 1966 he was appointed CBE and in 1971 he won the Oireachtas Gold Medal. McWilliam is represented in many public collections, including MOMA (New York) and Tate Britain.

He and his wife (Beth Crowther) travelled to Paris when he won the Robert Ross scholarship, he continued carving up to his death. He died of cancer in London on 13 May 1992.

McWilliam’s style of work is made up of sculptures of the human form contorted into strange positions, often described as modern and surreal.

In September 2009 Banbridge District Council opened a gallery and studio dedicated to the work of and named after McWilliam.

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