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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Michael Ayrton (1921–1975)

Sculptor and painter. He was born Michael Ayrton Gould, son of the poet and critic, Gerald Gould, and the Labour politician, Barbara Ayrton. His education was interrupted by illness, but he was inspired by works seen on his European travels to take up drawing and painting. He studied briefly at Heatherley’s College and the St John’s Wood School of Art, before going off to Paris, where he shared a studio with the painter John Minton. Together they visited Eugène Berman and Giorgio de Chirico. Ayrton was one of the more articulate members of the English neo-Romantic group of artists. Amongst his early influences were Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchev. His first one-man show was at the Redfern Gallery in 1943. Ayrton was a polymath. He wrote copious art-criticism, especially for the Spectator between 1944 and 1946. He also wrote historical novels and essays, and was a familiar voice on the BBC, and a member of the Brains Trust. In 1951 he began to sculpt. Visits to Cumae in Southern Italy in 1956, and to Crete the following year, inspired him to explore the myths of Daedalus and Icarus and the labyrinth of King Minos. Ayrton even designed a labyrinth for a wealthy American, Armand Erpf, at Arkville in the Catskill Mountains (1968–69). He has two sculptures in the City of London: Minotaur (1968/69), in the gardens of Bastion High Walk, and Icarus III – Variant I (1960–72), in the garden of Old Change Court. Ayrton alienated several of his artistic colleagues by his continued critical attacks on Picasso. He died of a heart attack at the age of 55.

Bibliography (updated 2024): P. Cannon Brookes, Michael Ayrton, An Illustrated Catalogue, Birmingham, 1978; J. Hopkins, Michael Ayrton, London, 1994; T.G. Rosenthal, ‘Ayrton [formerly Ayrton Gould], Michael’, ODNB, (2004), 2008; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. xxix, 233–35, 293–94; M. Yorke, The Spirit of Place, Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and Their Times, London, 1988.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003

Ayrton, Michael

Howard Coster, Michael Ayrton, half-plate film negative, 1953, NPG x25844 (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)